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Anthrax Scare: Some 20 Staffers from Senator Tom Daschle's Office Test Positive for Anthrax

Aired October 17, 2001 - 09:34   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news to share with you this morning. Associated Press confirming that some 20 staffers worked in Senator Tom Daschle's office have tested positive for exposure to anthrax. Let's go to Kate Snow, who is standing by on Capitol Hill with reaction to that.

Boy, Kate, this is not what anybody wanted to hear this morning.


We have been desperately working the phones trying to confirm that number being reported by the Associated Press. I can tell you that our White House correspondent Kelly Wallace has one source confirming that number. Our producer Dana Bash (ph) here on Capitol Hill has another source, a Republican source, confirming that number as well. So I think safe to say that that number does appear to be accurate, being reported by the Associated Press. They're saying 20- plus staffers, 20 or more staffers, in the office of Tom Daschle testing positive for anthrax exposure.

Now let me back up for a second and remind our viewers that these folks who were in the office of Tom Daschle on Monday morning, there were 40 or 50 people in the office when this letter was first opened. We were told at that time that field test were done. Swabs were taken off the clothing, and the rug and some of the other things in the room where that letter was opened. Those test on all the articles of clothing and things around the area had showed negative. That's why Senator Daschle yesterday was quite clearly saying, look, it doesn't look like this is a big threat, everything so far shown negative, except for the substance itself. You will recall the anthrax, the powder itself, has tested positive in the field, which is of course what raised alarms and why sent out for further testing, and found that it was positive based on test results from Fort Dietrich, Maryland yesterday.

But again, initially, the area appeared to be clean, and so they weren't very concerned about the workers, but they did at the time on Monday take nasal swabs from all of the 40 or 50 people in the office at the time. And they've been waiting for those test results to come back to them. I was told late yesterday that they that hadn't gotten the results yet, that they were waiting between 24 and 48 hours to get the results. Apparently, the Associate Press reporting that the results have come back, definitive results showing that there were spores found in at least 20 of the staffers, and that, again, Paula, as I understand, it would be anthrax exposure, meaning that the people had spores, and not necessarily infected and showing symptoms of the disease -- Paula.

ZAHN: The Associated Press reporting that those 20 people now undergoing antibiotic treatment, specifically Cipro.

SNOW: Right.

ZAHN: I know in my interview with Senator Daschle yesterday, I asked him about whether he believed, and of course very early on in the investigation, whether it was the inhaled kind or the kind you would contract through the skin, and he said, we just didn't know, but there was great concern about the ventilation system.

Which takes me to the next point. I just interviewed Senator Lieberman, and he pointed out, and I think you've also confirmed this morning, that yesterday over 1,000 people were tested on Capitol Hill for potential exposure to this stuff. Even he admitted, because one of his offices were closed as part of this investigation, the 20 offices you mentioned, that he is taken Cipro as a precaution.

SNOW: Right.

ZAHN: Give us context once again for why people have opted for that treatment, particularly since there's no evidence of that found in these other offices.

SNOW: Right. And let me remind you that on Monday. when these 40 or 50 people were quarantined, the people that were in the office when the letter was opened, they were immediate seen by the doctor. Not only did they take nasal swabs at that point, which I believe these test results come from, but they also administered Cipro to those 40 or 50 people immediately on Monday. So those people started taking Cipro antibiotics on Monday. So even if they are showing positive for anthrax, they're already being medicated. Separately, more than 1,000 people yesterday, and even into this morning, Paula, are being tested for exposure.

These are people who where in the building, anyone who was in the area on Monday, who feels they may potentially have been near Tom Daschle's office, because of concern about the ventilation system, that maybe their was an off chance, a slight chance that it could have gotten into the ventilation system. All the folks went in for testing. They had nasal swabs taken throughout the day yesterday, and again, this morning, they are doing that, and everyone that went through that line, more than 1,000 people, have been given three days supply of Cipro. Whether they take it or not is another question. But all of those folks are on Cipro and have been given Cipro as well just as a precaution. So that's the way it stands right now -- Paula.

ZAHN: What's strange about that, Kate, is the normal course of treatment is a 20-day period. I don't know what that means. Can we talk through some other information. Let's -- actually Senator Lieberman testifying at the bioterrorism hearing. Let's listen in.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: ... many Americans into an understandable state of have high anxiety over this threat to our public health.

This morning I hope and am confident that we can calmly discuss the fact, offer reassurance to the public that the federal government on duty, and rapidly improving our preparedness to respond to whatever may come. The sad fact we now entered an era when the previously theoretical, with regard to chemical and biological attacks, has become altogether real. Although it is clear to me that our government still has a lot of work to do, the reassuring fact is that the response of our public health system over the last two weeks is just about what we would have hoped it would be. There's been quick detection, identification, treatment and containment of the problem, and that has clearly and thankfully minimized the casualties.

I want particularly to commend our first witness Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson for his leadership in responding to this crisis, in calming a tension nation, and in urgently acting to improve our response systems to this now very real threat.

The Government Affairs Committee is an oversight committee charged with the specific mandate to ensure that the federal government organized effectively to fulfill its responsibilities. In today's hearing, therefore, we are going to focus on the organizational aspect of...

ZAHN: Throughout the morning, we will continue to dip in and out of this bioterrorism, terror, where Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson will talk about request for $600 million to pay for Cipro and other antibiotics that might be used in the treatment of anthrax exposure or actual contraction of the disease itself.

Let's go back to Kate Snow who is standing by on Capitol Hill, as we try to get a better understanding of what the news mean that Associated Press is reporting, that there are 20 people in Senator Daschle's office who have tested positive for anthrax exposure.

Kate, we didn't get to say this in this hour, but the test so far have shown that there was a high degree, a significant degree of concentration of spores found in the senator's office. The strain is being called virulent, sophisticated, and we had expert on this morning saying basically, you know, that rules out the garden-variety wacko who would try to make this is his kitchen or his bathroom. What do you hear?

SNOW: Right, that's what Senator Daschle said since yesterday, that this was a particularly potent strain of anthrax, based on the tests that was done of the powder itself, the white powder that fell out of the letter when they opened it on Monday morning. So that is indeed the case.

I wanted to clarify a couple of things. First of all, CNN also confirming this news, about 20 staffers, which is being reported, which was first reported by the Associated Press. We have it from two sources, one on the Hill and one from White House correspondent Kelly Wallace.

Secondly, I wanted to let you know that Senator Lieberman spoke with me just after your interview with him, and right before he went to that hearing, and I asked him very specifically, did he know the test results from Senator Daschle's office, and he said, no, he did not. So I don't believe he has this information yet, at least he didn't when he left and went into the hearing, where you were just seeing him.

Also, he was telling me, that his understanding of why the building is shut down today, Paula, is because they wanted to do tests on some filters on the roof of the Hart building, the building in which Senator Daschle's office is. They wanted to specifically test those filters, and that gets back to that question of the ventilation system and whether or not it may have been vulnerable, whether or not the anthrax may have gotten into the ventilation system. And again, we don't know the results yet of any of those physical test being done on this system or on these filters on the roof -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Kate, if you would please stand by, because I am going to bring Dr. Sanjay Gupta into our conversation now.

Dr. Gupta, based on this information that CNN is now confirming, would that lead you to believe that this was the anthrax of the inhalation kind, or the kind that's contracted through the skin. I know those tests are being done, but I know you also have a great deal of knowledge about this area. What do you think?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're hearing I think is that the nasal swab, in fact, were positive for exposure, that would argue for an exposure of the inhalational kind. It doesn't mean, to be quite clear, it doesn't mean that there has been inhalational anthrax, inhalational infection, but there's certainly something that needs to be investigated further. Sounds like the spores are small enough to actually breathe in, to the nose at least. Now the real question is going to be to try to determine whether or not those ultimately made it down to the lungs, which will be the inhalational infection.

ZAHN: All right, so obviously, to take the precaution that the office did, which was tell these folks that because they couldn't say with 100 degree certainty what happened that morning, they should take the antibiotics, they did absolutely the right thing?

GUPTA: That's right. We're seeing that in a couple of different times. People are getting tested. They are getting the antibiotics right away. It's an Important point, Paula, because if you can treat -- if this was inhalational infection, if these did, in fact, make it down to the lungs, treatment that started before symptoms start have a much better chance of actually stopping the infection, treating the infection, preventing the bad things we saw with Mr. Stevens down in Florida, preventing those things from ever happening. A greater chance if the ciprofloxin is started earlier, which it was. ZAHN: I also interviewed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson this morning, and he said although he's satisfied, he thinks the government has enough supplies of Cipro and other antibiotics that would be similarly effective, he's going to go to Congress today and ask for $600 million to stockpile more. Just give us some context on that.

GUPTA: In order to treat people who you think might be exposed, people who are at high risk for some reason, you need -- you would actually need to treat the people for up to 60 days, which a lot of ciprofloxin. Tommy Thompson talk about the fact we have enough to treat 2 million up to 60 days, and based on their estimates want to make sure we have enough to 12 million people for 60 days. That's 720 million doses. That's the math, and that's a lot more than we have now. Certainly, we are having a lot of back and forth over the best way to do that. The Bayer Corporation certainly have said that they would be able to do that in a press conference yesterday.

And we've heard some other options from Senator Schumer yesterday about maybe having some generic drug companies assist in that endeavor, but either way, it sounds like people are trying to meet those goals.

ZAHN: All right, doctor, if you would, please stand by, because you and Kate and I are going to try to make as much sense of this as we can. Let's go back to Kate Snow on Capitol Hill who has new information for us now -- Kate.

SNOW: Well, Paula, I wanted to clarify something about Cipro. We were talking a few moments ago about how more than 1,000 people who worked in the Hart office building tested for exposure and they were given a three-day supply of Cipro. I wanted to clarify, they were also told to come back and check back in tomorrow on Thursday with a doctor, not only to get their test results, but then potentially to be given more Cipro. You asked me about that earlier. Why were they only giving a three-day supply? That's your answer on that.

ZAHN: All right, and, Sanjay, let's talk a little bit more about that, because you said the normal course would be 60 days. It wouldn't make any sense for someone to take the stuff for three days. I mean, you're the guy that always tell us that when you're given an antibiotic, you have to complete the course, or you might be building resistance to other antibiotics along the way.

SNOW: Right, and I think there's a pretty logical reasoning that is going on here, Paula. One is that they want to go ahead and treat people until the test come back. If the test do in fact come back positive, continue to treat. If the test come back negative, then I think it's OK to go ahead and stop treatment at this that time. You are right, Paula, I you always hear doctors say complete you're course of antibiotics if they're given. That is in the case of a positive infection. In these cases, we're actually giving -- the doctors down there are actually giving ciprofloxin almost as a prophylactics in the thousands of people that we're hearing about. And then if the tests to come back negative, saying it's OK to stop the antibiotics at this time. The tests do come back within three days, and that's where that where the three-day number comes from.

ZAHN: Yes, well, let's talk about the prophylactics treatment for a moment, doctor, because there is something I don't get at all. I mean, we knew that a lot of the NBC employees were recommended to take drugs prophylactically. And yet, at ABC, ABC News confirmed that in spite of the fact that a 7-month-old tested positive for exposure to anthrax, at least at the time of that news conference, no one had asked for that prophylactics course.

SNOW: I think that has to with the likelihood of exposure, again, Paula, and I don't know enough of the details about the ABC. I do know the 7-month-old was crawling around, supposedly in some spaces. I'm not sure how they're determining quite honestly that other people around there were not exposed. I think that has to do with really likelihoods. I think it's always a good idea to test people at that point, offer the antibiotics, but I think people over at ABC think the risk of exposure, leave alone infection, that the risk of exposure was so small that they are not going to go ahead and treat.

ZAHN: And, doctor, I'm not going to ask you to be political pundit here, but you no doubt there's a debate under way, and since Senator Schumer is upset that Bayer now is the only one that has a patent for these drugs, and he is asking the government to actually buy, and allow for the patent to be broken, to actually buy the generic brand of this drug to build up the supplies.

Once again, help everybody who is watching this morning understand why that is important?

GUPTA: Well, I think both Senator Schumer and Secretary Thompson have both indicated that we think the supply of Cipro -- the stockpiles in fact may not be large enough at this point for what their goals are, again, enough to treat 12 million for 60 days. There are some important points here, Paula. One is that the generic drug companies would still have to go through FDA process. We've talked to FDA officials about this sort of thing in the past. And certainly, no one wants to risk the safety of these medication in an effort to expedite them to the public. We're still going to make sure the drugs are safe. That can sometime be a few month-long process.

The second thing is that the doctors who are out there still need to use good judgment and not be prescribing Cipro just because it's more plentily available and just giving that to people as much as they want. They still need to keep in mind, as they have been, very cautious about the fact that ciprofloxin does have side effects, both to the individuals and to the community at large. Anytime you introduce large quantities of antibiotics, you may breed some resistant organisms, which could be a problem down the road. But I think both -- I'm hearing from both sides that we do need more ciprofloxin. We're looking for better ways to try to get that.

ZAHN: All right, doctor, please, once again, stand by. Let's go back to Kate Snow who has some new information for us -- Kate.

SNOW: From our producer Ted Barrett (ph) here on Capitol Hill, that two Congressman, and this is from a congressional source, that two Congressman, Congressman Bob Ney and Dick Armey, the majority leader in the House, are planning to come out and make an announcement about security at the Capitol. They're going to be talking about enhanced security being put in place over the next 12-24 hours, and that will include, we're told, intensive scrutiny on current conditions in offices here on Capitol Hill.

I'm sorry I can't be more specific than that, but we're told that they are going to talk about enhanced security, and that includes intensive scrutiny on current conditions of offices. Our producer asked this source, does that mean that you're looking for the presence of anthrax in offices, or that you are concerned about that? We were not steered away from that? But we certainly don't want to make too much of a leap here. Just want to tell you that we will be looking at enhanced security over the next 12-24 hours.

ZAHN: Kate Snow, along with other CNN folks, confirming that some 20 folks in Senator Daschle's office has tested positive for exposure to anthrax. On the other side, we want to come back to Kate to get for further insights as to what is being done on Capitol Hill, in terms of the mail, and even mail deliveries coming there and a whole lot more.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And we are talking about the latest news. It has been confirmed that some 20 people working in Senator Tom Daschle's office have tested positive for exposure to anthrax. Very shortly, a news conference is going to get under way, led by Representative Bob Ney and Dick Armey to talk about security on Capitol Hill and the scrutiny of work conditions on Capitol Hill. As soon as that takes place, we will go there live. In the meantime, let's go back to Kate Snow.

Kate, we should also mention, we've been putting it across the lower third part of screen, that Senator Daschle will be holding a news conference as well later today. Do we have any idea when that might happen?

SNOW: I don't know exactly when. But we do know sometime this morning, I imagine, Paula. We're working on a getting firm time. Also, I've been told that senators are going to be getting a briefing at some point this morning. I will let you know more on that when I have it more firmly. But I want to go back to what you just mentioned. The House of Representatives -- we're waiting to hear from two members there. And we are told by Representative Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, has just told us, that they are intended to finish their work early in the U.S. House of Representatives today, and then do a sweep of all House office buildings. We're not exactly clear on what that sweep is for. But they are going to do a sweep of all House office building, finish their work early, and come back here on Tuesday.

In other words, the House of Representatives -- I'm not sure about the Senate, but the House intending on finishing today, and not come back for a matter of days to sweep through all of the offices because of security concerns.

Just one note on that, they were to take up rather big items here. Tomorrow, they were going to taking up the economic stimulus package that the president has been pushing for here. That apparently will not happen, Paula, if they do take a break until next Tuesday.

ZAHN: And once again, to put this into perspective this morning, we can only can confirm that a letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle contained anthrax in it. There is no suggestion that any other member of Congress got a similar letter, right, Kate?

SNOW: That's absolutely right. I can tell you, that there have been numerous calls. There have been and numerous people calling into the Capitol police throughout the last few days, concerned about packages. There would be a number of false alarms, as there have been around the country here on Capitol Hill. But as far as confirming the presence of anthrax, we need to be very clear, the only confirmation of that is in the letter that was opened and 10:15 in the morning on Monday in the office of Senator Tom Daschle.

ZAHN: All right, Kate Snow.




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