Bioterrorism Squads Comb US Capitol as Another Anthrax Letter found in NY

Published October 21st, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Bioterrorism squads in protective gear prepared to resume combing US congressional buildings for signs of anthrax on Sunday, as a letter mailed to a New York newspaper tested positive for the deadly bacteria.  

The letter, believed to be responsible for infecting New York Post editorial assistant Johanna Huden, contained the same strain of anthrax -- and a similar handwriting -- found on the letters mailed earlier to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and US Senate Democratic Majority leader Tom Daschle, authorities said. 

Like the two other anthrax-laced missives, the letter was postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, allowing investigators to narrow the focus of their inquiry.  

But Huden admitted she noticed the first signs of infection on her finger more than a month ago in an indication that anthrax mailings may have started at about the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.  

"Nearly five weeks ago, I noticed an itchy, red bug-bite-like bump on the last joint of my right middle finger," Huden wrote about her experiences in her newspaper.  

She said the bump quickly got red and swollen, broke open and released some fluid. She tried to treat it with Band-Aid and the anti-inflammation ointment Neosporin. 

It did not work.  

"Later, when I removed the Band-Aid after a long day at work, an ulcer had formed that was jet black and dry in the middle," Huden confessed.  

She became the fourth person associated with a New York media organization to contact anthrax ad the eighth nationwide.  

While New York investigators pondered the source of the letter, emergency teams in biohazard suits scoured buildings on Capitol Hill, where anthrax spores have now been found in a mail bundling machine in the Ford House Office Building.  

The building houses the Congressional Budget Office and a child day-care center for House employees. 

Last week, anthrax spores were discovered in the Hart Senate Office Building, prompting the House to suspend its work and the Senate to shut down all three of its office buildings.  

"This stuff has gotten into the ventilation system, it's going through the tunnels," an exasperated Dennis Hastert, the Republican House Speaker, said late last week. 

Authorities have now decided to examine all congressional buildings, a task some believe may take more tan a few days, jeopardizing plans by congressional leaders to resume legislative business Monday or Tuesday.  

"As it stands right now, the goal is for the Senate to come back on Monday and for the House to come back on Tuesday," Capitol Police spokesman Lieutenant Dan Nichols told reporters Saturday. "Now, we'll have to evaluate further to see if this changes that balance or not."  

As experts swabbed every nook and cranny on Capitol Hill, the US Postal Service announced its decision to test all employees of its Trenton Processing Center, Trenton Carrier Annex and West Trenton Post Office for possible exposure to anthrax.  

Two postal workers at a sorting center in New Jersey have contracted skin anthrax. 

In an indication the US government expected anthrax exposure cases to multiply, it was revealed Saturday that the Department of Health and Human Services was negotiating with Bayer Corporation a massive purchase of the antibiotic Cipro. 

The drug has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment of the inhaled form of anthrax. 

In a statement Bayer said it stood "ready to fulfill the supply requirements of the federal government" and reaffirmed its offer to donate two million Cipro tablets to federal and civic authorities who respond to calls of potential anthrax exposures. 

President George W. Bush said Saturday the US government "at this point" does not have any evidence linking the anthrax cases to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network blamed for the September 11 terror attacks. 

But for the first time since the beginning of the crisis, a majority of Americans disagreed with the commander-in-chief. 

With the number of reported anthrax cases growing, 63 percent of those polled by Newsweek magazine said they thought bin Laden's network was probably behind the contamination -- Washington, (AFP)  

 

 

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