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31 People Exposed to Anthrax in Daschle Office Incident

Aired October 17, 2001 - 13:42   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We are waiting for the House leadership, Speaker Hastert and Dick Gephardt, to come to the microphones in Washington to talk about the decisions that they have made, which are somewhat different, somewhat different than the decisions the Senate leadership has made about whether to stay open for business, when to shut down, when to go home, what to do with the staff. All of this, of course, in light of the anthrax that was found in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle the other day.

The early tests on that, 31 people, most of them staffers of Senator Daschle's but some of them Capitol Police, have tested positive for exposure -- we underline exposure -- to anthrax. So far, no evidence of infection. And in fact, just a short time ago, someone was asked at a briefing that the Senate leadership did if anyone is sick. The answer was no.

It seems like a good time to go back to Atlanta and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Let's -- let's -- I want to clarify one thing I mentioned and then a couple of other things.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We did check actually with the Centers for Disease Control, and in fact 20,000 deaths nationwide from the flu, 100,000 hospitalizations. But the point here only is to try and help context, just keep what's going on in context.

So on the subject of exposure and contraction, let's run this through one more time. What is the difference?

GUPTA: Exposure merely means, Aaron, that someone has actually had anthrax near them, either on their skin, perhaps in their nose. It does not mean the second step, which you worry about, but has not occurred, which is that those spores have actually gotten into the blood stream, gotten into the base of the lungs somewhere and actually started to wreak their havoc.

Anthrax actually works by releasing toxins, which can get into your bloodstream, get into your lymph glands, all these sorts of things. But none of that has happened if you've only been exposed.

BROWN: The reason they do a nasal swab, by the way?

GUPTA: The reason for they do a nasal swab basically is just to see if there's any spores that are actually in your nose. It's sort of just a test to say, well, if there's actually spores in the nose, we need to be vigilant, we need to actually make sure there's no spores that have gotten down into the lungs. But even before that, just let's start treating it to make sure we never see any symptoms develop in somebody in case some of those spores did get down into the lungs.

BROWN: And this nasal swab that we have heard so much about now, is that a certain test? Can we be confident that if someone is swabbed negative that they in fact have not been exposed to anthrax?

GUPTA: Right, and I've asked that same question to some of the people who conduct these tests. What they told me was that it is very unlikely for spores to have passed through your nose and to your lungs without having some spores left in your nose. So it is a good test to see if you've actually been exposed.

There is a very, very remote chance that all of the spores that you inhaled actually passed right through your nose, none of them stayed behind, and all went to your lungs, but they said that's very much a remote possibility.

BROWN: So, that's the kind of good news/bad news. If it comes back negative, clearly -- or it would seem almost certain you're OK. If it comes back positive, at the minimum -- and this is the minimum -- you've been exposed to it.

This may sound absolutely off-the-wall. I apologize. I'm clearly not a doctor. If you take an ounce of anthrax, does it grow? Does it become an ounce and half at some point without some intervention?

GUPTA: Bacteria like any other organism does need nutrients to grow, Aaron. It will not grow, for example, in an envelope. But certainly, when it gets into your bloodstream, when it gets into the base of your lungs, it can grow, it can divide, and actually increase the numbers of spores or actual bacteria. So it can if provided with the proper nutrients.

BROWN: But just -- if it were in the ventilation system of a building -- or one of the experiments that I read about recently, they were talking about it being released in the subway system. An ounce doesn't become a pound simply because it's in the subway system or in the ventilation system.

GUPTA: That's correct, Aaron. Just in the -- without any sort of nutrients, it should not grow, and I'll add to that as well that these spores are very, very sensitive to sunlight, meaning sunlight is very likely to deactivate them, essentially kill them.

So in fact, if you have a lot of spores out in sunlight, in fact they won't grow. They may actually decrease in number over time.

BROWN: OK. One more question I want to ask, but I need to go to Kate Snow up on the Hill first. Kate, as I think you probably know, has been working the House-Senate side of the story, trying to figure out what they are going to do. Kate, what do you know? KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, I can tell you that the House is looking now at taking a recess later this afternoon. They're going to be closing their House office buildings around 7 o'clock tonight. The Senate, we understand, is going to be closing down their Senate office buildings later this evening at close of business, we're told, and sending their staff home.

Both of these measures being taken so that they can do some further environmental testing in all of the buildings that house the Senate and House offices. But the Senate, as you just heard a short time ago, is going to stay in session, if you will. They're going to probably have at least one vote tomorrow. This is more symbolic than anything else, to show that they're still open for business.

And one interesting note on the House side -- we're hearing from one of our producers in the House -- that they're just looking at this possibility. But they're looking at whether or not there might be another place where members of the House could convene and could hold their sessions. They're looking into alternative sites.

I'm told by representative Bob Ney, who is chairman of the Administration Committee, though, they're not at the stage where they would actually go and meet there. They're just simply looking at options.

And one other note on that, tomorrow there was a hearing that was already scheduled to happen. It's being conducted by Bon Menendez. He's going to be conducting his hearing on bioterrorism and homeland defense. And Aaron, they're telling us that they're going to be look at a hotel or maybe a townhouse where they can hold that hearing somewhere off campus. So they can still get some of the work of the Congress done -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kate, in all honestly, you can only shake your head. You think about the symbolism of that for a second, of the House or the Senate deciding that it is not safe to do business in the Capitol of the United States of America. You remember the kind of low-level fuss there was on September 11th that it took the president quite some time to get back to Washington and the symbolism of that. Now, at least on the table being kicked around, is the idea that maybe the Congress of the United States has to find a safer place to meet.

SNOW: Right, but again maybe. Maybe they have to find a safer place. And you heard from the senators, Senator Daschle and Senator Lott -- and Senator Daschle, in fact, just spoke a few moments ago on the floor of the Senate, emphasizing again that this is not a dire situation, that this is eminently treatable, that there are 31 people who have been exposed, but they are not coming down with anthrax. So there is a lot of note of caution on Capitol Hill, a lot of people trying to stress that it's not an incredibly bad situation, but just one where they're trying to take some precautions -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kate, thank you. Back to Sanjay Gupta.

Doctor, I had a question on antibiotics. We talked about Cipro all the time. Is there anything magic here about Cipro or is there a range of antibiotics that can be used, could be used if necessary?

GUPTA: Aaron, it has a sort of interesting history. Certainly for the naturally occurring anthrax that we've been hearing a lot about, a lot of different antibiotics work, such as penicillin even.

The reason Cipro became so popular and so advocated was because there's genetically manipulated anthrax strains, which actually are genetically manipulated simply to become antibiotic-resistant.

Ciprofloxacin was one of the antibiotics it was very difficult to make resistant against, and that's why it gained such popularity against the inhaled anthrax.

BROWN: Sanjay, thanks. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta.




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