Three New Anthrax Infections Bring Total to Nine
The number of people infected with anthrax disease has risen to nine, with three new infections announced since Friday, the Baltimore Sun reports (Pelton, Baltimore Sun, 10/22). The six people diagnosed before Friday include two men in Florida with inhalation anthrax; an NBC employee, the seven-month-old son of an ABC producer and a CBS worker -- all in New York -- with cutaneous anthrax; and a postal worker in New Jersey with cutaneous anthrax. One of the Florida men died in early October (California Healthline, 10/19). In the most recent infection, a Washington, D.C.-area postal worker who worked in two facilities that handled mail for Capitol Hill has been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax, the most rare and deadly form of the disease. The man, who is in serious but stable condition in a Virginia hospital, had complained of a fever and chest pains last week and went to the hospital Friday. It is not clear how the man contracted anthrax, but officials are investigating whether he handled an anthrax-tainted letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) (Baltimore Sun, 10/22). The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the Daschle letter was processed at a facility where the man worked (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/22). Health authorities have begun screening and giving antibiotics to about 2,150 employees of the two facilities where the infected man worked (Lancaster/Blum, Washington Post, 10/22). D.C. Health Department spokesperson Jack Pannell said five other D.C.-area postal workers -- two of whom are in hospitals -- have symptoms "consistent with anthrax," but officials are awaiting results to determine if they have the disease (Baltimore Sun, 10/22).
In the New York area, two more people -- a New Jersey postal worker and a New York Post employee -- have been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, which is a less serious form of the disease than the inhaled version, the New York Times reports. The postal worker, the second New Jersey postal worker to be infected, is taking antibiotics and is in stable condition at a Pennsylvania hospital. The unidentified 35-year-old man sorts and loads mail at a regional mail center in New Jersey that processed the letters sent to Daschle and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. Johanna Huden, a New York Post newsroom assistant, was also diagnosed with the disease. Huden was treated last month for a fever and an infected finger, but was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax last week (Steinhauer, New York Times, 10/20). Friday night, investigators found a letter in the New York Post office that tested positive for anthrax. It remains unclear whether this letter is "responsible" for Huden's infection (Lueck/Rosenbaum, New York Times, 10/21). To assist New York City health officials in testing thousands of people who might have been exposed to anthrax, the Department of Defense has dispatched a Rapid Response Team with 12 laboratory technicians, the New York Times reports. City health officials have been "stretched to the limit" in the wake of the confirmed exposures and infections in the city. Thus far, tests on more than 1,300 NBC employees and environmental tests at ABC and CBS came back negative (Kershaw, New York Times, 10/22).
Preliminary tests on 600 Capitol Hill workers have come back negative for anthrax exposure, and the number of exposed has been reduced from 31 to 28, the New York Times reports (Steinhauer, New York Times, 10/20). Nasal swab tests are still pending for 2,500 workers; authorities have said they expect those tests to come back negative (Merzer/Borenstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/21). Investigators have found anthrax in four locations -- the Hart Senate Office Building, the mail-handling facility in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, a Capitol Police mail-intake facility and the Ford Office Building, which handles mail for the House (Kuhnhenn/Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22). U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said, "This was not an unexpected situation. We'll continue to investigate this further and see where the situation leads us" (Epstein et al., San Francisco Chronicle, 10/21). The House chamber and all Senate and House office buildings have been closed since early last week, but the Capitol will be open today and both chambers will resume business tomorrow. The office buildings will remain closed "until definitive results are received" about anthrax exposure, congressional leaders said (Eilperin, Washington Post, 10/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.