Two New Anthrax Cases Confirmed, One More Suspected
Officials yesterday announced three new cases of anthrax infection, two of which would be the first cases to occur in people who do not work for the government or Postal Service, or are not connected to a media company, the New York Times reports (Rosenbaum/Johnston, New York Times, 10/30). A second New Jersey postal worker has inhaled anthrax infection, officials confirmed yesterday. The woman, who was hospitalized Oct. 15 and has since been released, worked at a central mail-processing facility in Hamilton Township, N.J., that processed at least three anthrax-tainted letters. The other New Jersey postal worker with inhalation anthrax remains hospitalized but in good condition. For federal health investigators, the "most important development" yesterday was a confirmed cutaneous infection in a 51-year-old New Jersey bookkeeper who worked near the Hamilton mail processing center, but otherwise is not thought to have had direct contact with any of the tainted letters. The woman had a lesion on her forehead that initially tested negative for anthrax, but later was hospitalized when her face became swollen and the lesion began oozing. She was released from the hospital Saturday (Goldstein/Powell, Washington Post, 10/30). In the third new case, preliminary tests on a 61-year-old New York woman who works at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital indicate inhaled anthrax infection (Rosenbaum/Johnston, New York Times, 10/30). The woman, who works in the hospital's stockroom, is in "very, very serious" condition. Final tests to confirm inhaled anthrax infection are expected today (Goldstein/Powell, Washington Post, 10/30). In the meantime, New York City Officials temporarily shut down the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital for environmental testing. Twenty-five hospital employees have been prescribed antibiotics (Greenhouse/Lipton, New York Times, 10/30). In total, there are eight cases of inhalation anthrax, not including the unconfirmed New York case. Three men have died from the disease; four people are receiving treatment in the hospital for inhaled anthrax infection and are in serious condition; and one person has been released from the hospital. With the recent New Jersey case, there are six confirmed instances of cutaneous anthrax (Rosenbaum/Johnston, New York Times, 10/30).
The new cutaneous infection raises the "possibility of cross-contamination," or that one of the tainted letters may have contaminated another piece of mail, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/30). Until the confirmed case of cutaneous anthrax in the New Jersey bookkeeper, anthrax infections had only occurred among postal workers or people who worked in offices where the tainted letters were opened, the Post reports. "Just hours" before the case was confirmed, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "There have been no documented cases at all of an individual getting a letter personally from (a contaminated) facility and winding up getting disease" (Goldstein/Powell, Washington Post, 10/30). As for how the New Jersey bookkeeper became infected, Trenton Postal Inspector Tony Esposito said, "We don't want to come to any conclusions until we finish all the environmental tests from her home, her office and the routes she traveled on a daily basis, and compare the DNA of the anthrax to the other New Jersey cases" (Kulish/Sandberg, Wall Street Journal, 10/30). The new developments trouble some experts who say they represent a "pattern of premature reassurances" by the Bush administration. Helen Schauffler, executive director of the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Health and Public Policy Studies, said, "The ineptitude of the response of our officials to this is unbelievable. They keep giving these false reassurances, and all it's doing is undermining their credibility" (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/30).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.