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Anthrax Scare: Best Clue to Anthrax Case May Be Bacterium Itself; Bayer to Produce Cipro Around the Clock

Aired October 17, 2001 - 05:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well here's a look at what we know about those anthrax cases we've been telling you about. Eight cases have been reported in Florida and New York, four people have been infected, and at least four people have been exposed to the bacterium.

There are two infections in Florida and one case of exposure. One of the infected patients died. The other is hospitalized. And in New York two people have been infected and three people have been exposed.

Right now health officials are trying to track down the source of the anthrax. As CNN Eileen O'Connor reports, the best clue may be the bacterium itself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Released by the Justice Department the envelopes of the letters sent to NBC and to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle showed similar handwriting and the same postmark.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We believe that there may be other envelopes that this would kind of give people a hint. That if you see an envelope like this, that you don't recognize, you might want to be careful.

O'CONNOR: CNN has learned the NBC letter contained language threatening to Israel and the United States and warned the recipient to take medication. It ended by praising Allah. Sources say the letter to Daschle was threatening as well.

In addition, both were processed at the same suburban New Jersey facility, a state that has caught investigator's attention before. Some of the suspected hijackers' sources say stayed in this apartment in Patterson, New Jersey before the attacks. And New Jersey was a base for Sheik Omar Abdul Rockman (ph) and his followers. He's in prison for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Still the FBI says it's drawing no conclusions.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: While organized terrorism has not been ruled out. So far we have found no direct link to organized terrorism. O'CONNOR: Another thing investigators are pursuing with the help of the CDC, the form, the concentration and the strain of the anthrax involved in each case.

MUELLER: To discuss at this point any similarities would be premature because those tests have not been concluded.

O'CONNOR: That information could help investigators determine the source and whether this is state sponsored terrorism. Senators giving a preliminary briefing say the letter sent to Daschle contained a high-grade of anthrax. Sources say that means virulent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly it suggests a level of expertise that's disturbing and that might also suggest the presence of some state involvement by a nation that had been involved in producing weapons of mass destruction.

O'CONNOR: Sources close to the investigation say that doesn't necessarily rule out individuals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's still too early to tell whether - definitively whether that is from a state sponsored source or that it's from another terrorist organization that managed to acquire the material themselves or develop it themselves or even steal it themselves.

O'CONNOR (on camera): CNN is told by government sources that lab results on anthrax samples so far indicate they are natural in origin, not genetically engineered and not weaponized.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR : The antibiotic Ciprofloxacin, also known as Cipro is being used to treat inhaled anthrax exposures and infections and Bayer is the company that makes this drug and they promise to supply some 200 million tablets in the next three months. The company says it's going to run its factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to meet that goal.

Bayer also says it will freeze the cost of Cipro to the pre- September 11th price.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York wants the government to go a step further in treating anthrax. He wants the government to increase its stockpiles of this antibiotic Cipro. Schumer believes that having a lot of it on hand would ease fears in the public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Under a relatively little known statute, but it's law, the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services have the power to allow these generic drug companies to produce the drug, even though the patent that Bayer has -- Bayer is the brand name, manufacturer hasn't expired yet. This could do three things. One, it could greatly increase the supply at a time when we're short of it. Two, it could greatly reduce the price, at least if the government will purchase it. Secretary Thompson allocated close to $700 million. He'd probably get two to three times the Cipro under our proposal.

And three, it could alleviate a lot of people's fears that there won't be enough Cipro around because there's only one producer, which there is now. And thus they might not hoard as much of it and relieve the shortage that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: The Bush administration isn't quite supportive of that idea. Human and Health Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says the government doesn't need to rush out and buy a lot of antibiotics right now. He says there's already enough on hand to treat some two million people for 60 days.

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