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NBC Employee Exposed to Anthrax Expected to Recover Fully

Aired October 12, 2001 - 13:03   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I want to take a minute and summarize where we are right now. I want to try and get everybody on the same page, and then we'll move forward. For those of you joining us and may have heard just the barest of details: An employee of NBC News has tested positive for exposure to a form of anthrax that enters the body through the skin. She is expected to recover. She's been treated with Cipro, which is the antibiotic that is quite effective in this.

Also, the "New York Times" received a suspicious package; police are investigating there. CBS News has closed down its mailroom and, obviously, checks are going there. We've taken some extra precautions in our mailroom here as well.

Tommy Thompson, the Health and Human Services secretary, says there is no proof that there is a connection between September 11 events and today's anthrax exposure announcement, which is what they've been saying about the cases -- the three exposure cases and the one full-blown case of anthrax in the state of Florida.

All of these instances now, the two confirmed and the suspicious one at the "New York Times" involved prominent American media companies. That doesn't change the intensity with which we report this, but it does give you a dimension to it.

A short time ago New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others, was at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where NBC News is located. And the mayor talked about what is known so far.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: We've been in close communication with the CDC and the Department of Health. Barry Mawn of the FBI is here with us. So this matter is being handled by all of the agencies that need to handle it.

And the things that are being done are being done out of an excess of caution. The -- it is likely that this issue all began way back on September 25. So one piece of good news is that if anyone else was going to be infected, it would have happened by now. If this were some kind of a case that was going to have large implications, or at least we're hopeful of that.

The woman who was, or apparently is infected by it, according to the tests that we got back from the CDC, she has been treated with Cipro from way back, I guess, on October 1. Her doctor began giving her treatment with Cipro, and appears to be recovering completely.


BROWN: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a short time ago.

There are a couple of things here that are a little bit confusing, and I suppose a little bit unsettling. One is that the white powdery substance that apparently came in this package and then was subsequently tested, the test came back negative for anthrax, and the initial testing done on the woman came back negative for anthrax. And then it was later when she developed a lesion on her skin, which is the natural progression of this form of anthrax.

When that happened, a lot of retesting was done. She, of course, was retested. But that initial testing of the white powder came back negative. No one explains why that is, and we just continue to work on that.

Again the package, as the mayor indicated, was received back on the 25. Anthrax has an incubation period, and sometimes we've heard six days, sometimes we've heard longer. So it does take some time to manifest itself in the body to the point where it can be tested.

Michael Okwu out of our New York bureau is at 30 Rock now. He's been talking -- 30 Rockefeller Plaza -- everyone, particularly if you're in this business, calls it 30 Rock. He is outside the building now, and he has more -- Michael.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, good afternoon to you.

For the better part of a month I have been characterizing this city as a city in contrast. And just as New Yorkers return to some sort of normalcy -- and I think most of us would call it a new kind of normalcy, -- this happens. Any other time in any other week this would be another lunch hour crowd assembling around 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It is a beautiful day here.

But, of course, there are throngs of people standing just outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza; a lot of media, of course, a lot of our presence. And also a lot of people who actually left the building, as well as tourists. This is a very important tourist site.

I'm joined now by two employees who were in the building when the announcement came.

Angie Call (ph) and Rosalda Nina (ph) are two employees of the law firm Fitzpatrick Cella up on the 30th floor. Thanks for joining us.

Could you tell me how you found out about this, and what were the feeling amongst yourselves and some of your coworkers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, we were told on the intercom to come to a conference room, and they told us what was going on. And they gave us the option of either staying or leaving, but they did not evacuate the building at all, so... OKWU: And obviously both of you decided to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We left because -- I personally don't feel very safe when it comes to the air quality in the building, although they said the person was on the third floor, she at times travels to the first floor and the seventh floor as well. So I don't know whether or not the proper air quality samples have been taken, and I really don't know whether we should be tested or not.

So I'm very nervous about it, and I want to go home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are all. I think half the firm -- more than half the firm left.


BROWN: We lost the signal out of New York, but I think it's pretty clear where people are. It's -- to be honest, it's where you'd be, it's where I'd be if I was in the same situation.

The two floors at NBC -- the third floor, which contains the offices of -- principally, the offices of "NBC Nightly News" and there's news management on that floor. There's some studio space on that floor at NBC. That has been sealed off. As I recall it, someone might double-check me on this -- I think they also said the seventh floor at NBC News had been sealed off, and that's being checked out. The mail room at NBC News has been shutdown.

Let me take a minute -- Rhonda, you've been listening to all of this. I don't have any brilliant question here, not that I necessarily ever do. What are you thinking right now? Are -- you're reading, you're on the phone, you're doing it all.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of things here. As we talked about, the skin form is highly treatable, so that is very good. Anybody who is getting antibiotics, there would only be a 1 percent chance of dying.

This is again, as we said, the most common form. About 95 percent of all anthrax cases do occur on the skin. In the last two years in the United States there were three people who did have this type of anthrax; all of them survived. All three of them did work with animals; that's usually the typical route of this.

And it's also very distinctive. What I'm reading here is that this would be very easy for doctors to pick up because of the rash. It first starts out as like a bug bite, it's a black center and it scabs over. So it's very distinctive. So hopefully if there's a doctor out there who is very alert, and doctors are supposed to be on heightened alert, it would be easy to identify.

Also what we understand here, Aaron, is after September 11 a team of 35 disease trackers from the CDC went up to New York to help, to be on alert for anything unusual. So there are already CDC workers on the ground up in New York. They've been there for some time. In addition to that, also sometimes people wonder about the antibiotics that are being used. We've heard a lot about Cipro. Cipro is just one antibiotic that can be used for this; and we understand that all of the employees down in Florida, and probably most likely all the employees up in New York, will be receiving antibiotics from the CDC stockpile. They have all these antibiotics on hand.

And the way that that is all supplied is that the CDC has contracts with several manufacturers of various medications, including antibiotics, so that they will always have a ready supply. And the supply is always fresh because they have the contacts.

So again, anybody who is in need of any kind of medication, they will get it. And it's important, also, Aaron because the people are concerned. They're wondering if they need something; and the CDC will get everything to those who need it.

BROWN: OK, stick around; we're not sure where we're going right now.

One of the problems -- we'll go to Florida in a second -- one of the problems here is, and the FBI, special agent in charge, made this point, is that law enforcement has gotten hundreds of hoaxes. And right now everything -- everything, underscore -- has to be taken seriously.

And so the mayor said if you receive -- this is a particular note in New York, but probably not bad to pass along across the country -- if you get anything suspicious, don't move it. Leave where it is. Call 911. Let people who know how to deal with this, how to isolate it, deal with it. As the mayor said repeatedly, mostly -- clearly mostly, you know this -- it's going to be nothing but a very bad and stupid hoax. But you need to be careful.

Mark Potter is in south Florida, where Mark has been tracking the other anthrax end of this story, now for the better part of the week -- Mark.


Well, investigators here are still trying to come up with answers to the Florida anthrax situation -- and a lot more questions than answers. What they're doing today is talking to employees, vendors, mail delivery people, construction workers, anybody who would have access to the building. They want to sit down and look them in the eye and talk to all of them.

And so they're bringing 100 extra agents up here from Miami to help do that. They're expecting to be engaged in that process through the weekend. They had been going through the building inch by inch, taking samples and swabs. That part of the investigation, at least for now, has slowed down because now they're waiting for results to come back from the laboratories. Those lab results will be critical, they believe, to this investigation because, depending on what they find, that will help determine the next course of the investigation. The other thing that, of course, the investigators are watching is for more results to come back from the nasal swabs that were taken from employees and visitors to the building. They took about 1,000 of those over the last few days. They got about 700 results back. They found one more positive case, a women who was exposed to anthrax spores. She did not develop the disease, according to officials.

So now there are three people, one who died from developing the anthrax disease, two others who were exposed to it who did not become infected. And they are waiting to see the 300 other results back to see if there's anybody else. If they all seem to be in the same area that may help with the investigation.

Right now they're not able to draw any conclusions, however. This information is still coming in, and it's bedeviling them. They're looking at a number of possibilities, but they say they don't want to focus in on anything yet because they're afraid if they do that they may overlook something that may not be so obviously, but that may actually be the cause of this.

So that's where they are now. Just good, hard investigative work. That continues.

BROWN: Mark a couple -- just -- my head snapped up when you said another employee. That's -- the woman who hospitalized on Wednesday came out of the hospital yesterday, talked to reporters, looked fine; apparently she's OK, correct? That's not a new case.

POTTER: That's correct; that's right.

And to review: There are three cases here. And the other point I want to make is that they have found traces of anthrax in two places, all within this building behind me, American Media Incorporated. it's been found no other place here in Florida. It was found on a computer keyboard, on one of the keys, and it was found in one place in the mailroom, too, as we understand. That's according to FBI officials.

BROWN: Mark, how long does it take for these test results to come back? The nasal swabs that they've been doing? How many days or hours or weeks does that take?

POTTER: Well, it normally would just take a matter of days, and there was some concern that it may take longer because of the number of people that they had to go through. But they actually got it done pretty quickly; just a couple of days. We're expecting most of the other results for the people who were tested Tuesday and Wednesday to come back today.

So they moved pretty quickly on that. They know how many people are concerned here; a lot of anxiety.

BROWN: Yes, I would say that a couple of days may seem short to anyone else, but if you're one of those people who's waiting for a result -- and anybody who's ever had any sort of medical procedure knows this -- if you're the one waiting a day, it seems like forever. Mark, thank you very much. I will tell you what, let me road map you a little bit. We are waiting for the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services, General Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson, to come out. Obviously, they are going to talk about this.




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