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Antibiotic use spreads

Anthrax anxiety

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The Postal Service buried a mail handler killed by anthrax -- the second funeral in two days -- while the search for the bacteria widened Saturday to thousands of businesses in Washington and 30 mail distribution centers. Authorities worried that there might be a second anthrax-laced letter, or more, not yet discovered.

With the nation on edge over anthrax-by-mail, the post office signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize letters and packages. The equipment will be used first in Washington, where the anthrax scare has spread from mail centers for Congress and the White House to the Supreme Court and the CIA.

The Supreme Court justices are taking antibiotics as a precaution along with other employees in the building, Dr. Ivan Walks, Wash-ington's public health director, said Saturday. No new cases of anthrax had been reported in people or buildings over the weekend, he added.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, whose office received an anthrax-related letter, said Saturday he was angry about the attacks, but he said Americans must move forward.

''We cannot be paralyzed by our anger or slowed by our sadness. We need to identify the weaknesses in our system of confronting bioterrorism so that we can protect our people,'' Daschle said in the Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address.

In New Jersey, state health officials said that about 600 people who visited non-public areas of a Hamilton Township mail processing facility where anthrax was found should take antibiotics. The recommendation applies mainly to workers from some 300 corporations who pick up or drop off mail. Five New Jersey postal workers have contracted the disease.

In Washington, police and health experts continued testing for anthrax contamination in congressional offices and postal facilities. The Ford and Longworth buildings at the House of Representatives and the Senate's Hart office building remained closed, as well as the mailroom in the Dirksen building. The Hart-Dirksen garage was scheduled to reopen on Monday.

About 68 tons of letters and other material from Washington were being trucked to a plant in Lima, Ohio, to be decontaminated with electron beams normally used to sterilize hospital equipment.

Dr. Gregory Martin of the National Naval Medical Center said that anthrax contamination discovered Friday at three congressional offices in the Longworth House Office Building was low level.

''We feel quite confident that we will see no cases of anthrax out of the congressmen's office,'' he said. Workers in those offices and at the Supreme Court are being treated with doxycycline as a precaution, he said, and people who have visited the congressional offices where spores were found were also urged to seek the antibiotic. A Supreme Court offsite mail handling office also was found to be contaminated and Martin says doxycycline was being given to workers there.

The Washington health department said it was prescribing doxycycline to new cases where people need preventive antibiotics and was switching old cases to that drug from Cipro, which had originally been recommended.

Walks said that doxycycline has fewer side effects than Cipro. CDC studies of the type of anthrax involves have shown that it can be treated with that drug. The Supreme Court justices were being given doxycycline.

Anthrax turned up first in Florida -- where one man died -- and then in New York before striking Washington on Oct. 9 in a letter to Daschle.

Another suspicious letter turned up in Florida Saturday, when a letter on its way to U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., started seeping white powder in the local post office. The letter, which was handwritten and had no return address, was sent to an FBI lab in Miami to be tested for anthrax.

The two dead mail handlers worked at Washington's now closed Brentwood mail distribution center, which processes mail for federal agencies and the rest of the city.

The funeral for Thomas Morris Jr. of Suitland, Md., was held Friday and burial services for Joseph Curseen Jr., of Clinton, Md., were Saturday. Flags at postal facilities which had been lowered in memory of the two were to return to full staff on Sunday.

The White House said President Bush had sent letters to the families.

Two postal workers and a mailroom employee of the State Department have been diagnosed with the often deadly inhaled form of anthrax and are hospitalized in northern Virginia in serious but stable condition.

In addition, the post office said 23 workers in the Washington area are hospitalized with ''suspicious symptoms,'' but anthrax has not been confirmed.

Several other people were being treated for the less serious skin form of anthrax.

Scattered instances of contamination have been turning up in mail rooms around Washington.

''We don't know if we have cross-contamination from the original Senator Daschle letter or if there is another letter out there that we need to be concerned about,'' Lt. Dan Nichols of the U.S. Capitol Police said Saturday.

Some 10,000 postal workers have been placed on antibiotics as a precaution and Washington's public health director, Walks, urged the same for workers in private mailrooms that receive material from the Brentwood station. That, he said, could cover 2,000 to 4,000 mailrooms.

Dr. Patrick Meehan of the CDC warned that thousands more people who work with the mail will need to begin taking preventive antibiotics.

The post office expanded its testing for contamination to 30 mail sorting and distribution centers along the East Coast and as far west as Arizona. An additional 200 sites across the country were expected to be selected for random testing for any signs of anthrax.

The first of about 45 truckloads of Washington mail to be decontaminated began arriving Thursday at a Titan Corp. plant in Ohio. The mail is sanitized with radiation. Letters will be put in packages, put on a conveyor belt and irradiated for about five minutes, killing bacteria -- including anthrax -- that might be present.

Meanwhile the San Diego-based company will begin delivering similar equipment next month starting with the Washington area.

Questions remain over whether the anthrax letters were part of some foreign act of terror or domestic. Handwriting analysis and profiling are leading investigators to increasingly suspect that one person wrote the three letters contaminated with anthrax and that the person spent significant time in the United States, officials say.

The officials cautioned that they have not identified specific suspects and continue to consider a variety of theories, including that a deranged U.S. resident with a biochemical background, a terrorist or hate group, a foreign country or some combination carried out the attacks.



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