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Anthrax Scare: Second Florida Infection Prompts Retesting of AMI Employees

Aired October 17, 2001 - 06:03   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have more on that later on, but let's get started right now with the latest on those anthrax cases this morning. One of the patients exposed to anthrax to Florida is said to be very sick right now and his coworkers are being retested today.

Our John Zarrella is standing by in Boca Raton, Florida this morning and he's got the details.

Morning John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Leon.

Well I guess the big question is how many people actually have been exposed to anthrax here, and there's a good reason why it's up in the air no one really knows -- is today the testing will begin again. They're going to be drawing blood from the 300 workers who worked at AMI, America Media behind us.

Now that was always planned. They took a blood test sampling about a week ago and when the results came back, there had been reports of up to perhaps five people who may have shown heightened levels of antibodies in their system, which are germ fighters.

The antibodies could be indicative of the presence of the - of anthrax or of exposure to anthrax. The second test - the second test that's going to start today was always planned and it's given because then once the second test results come back, if there are heightened levels of antibodies, then there is a better indication - a more certain indication that, in fact, other people have been exposed to anthrax.

But at this point, that's still about a week away. Those blood samples will be sent to the CDC for analysis before they get those results back, could be into next week before those blood tests are back.

The other wild card is Ernesto Blanco, the mailroom worker who worked also here at America Media. The State of Florida health officials are not ready to classify him as having anthrax infection. Yesterday, of course, we all had been assuming he definitely had it. He probably has it says State of Florida. Centers for Disease Control is a little bit more emphatic saying that in fact they do believe he has it.

But there is a little bit of a dispute in Ernesto Blanco's case as well. The FBI is now saying that they do believe, which is certainly every indication that pointed to the fact that the AMI workers were infected by a letter sent here. The problem is they may never know for sure because in all likelihood the FBI is saying the letter was probably thrown out or destroyed at some point and time.

Florida's Governor Jeb Bush was in town yesterday and he had some very, very harsh words about hoaxes that are being perpetuated. Hundreds of hoaxes that they have received and saying that the harshest penalties that the state can bring including felony charges on people who perpetuate any kind of hoax. This is a serious situation. It's not the time for this -- nor is any time the time for this kind of activity.

And those sentiments were certainly echoed on a national level by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ...this, to every American today, that the threat of bioterrorism is no joking matter. For the victims and emergency personnel who are called on to respond, every threat of terrorism is real. The perpetuators of terrorist hoaxes should know that the penalties for their crimes are real as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Now American Media building behind us, environmental testing that was done about a week ago, some results are starting to come in. We don't know what those results are, have not gotten briefed on any of that, expect more environmental testing results of swabs and 78 samples that were taken from there to come in periodically over the next days.

And finally, reports confirmed by America Media that they will not -- will not move back into this building behind us. They will find other facilities here in the Boca Raton area, in which to continue their operations. They're working out of some buildings now, but a new permanent facility - they will not be returning here and the status of what happens to this building in the future, at this point, anyone's guess.

This is John Zarrella reporting live from Boca Raton, Florida.

Back to you Leon.

HARRIS: John, before you go, one quick question. We are hearing this morning that the government is saying that the grade of anthrax that came out of the letter that was sent to Senator Tom Daschle in Washington was called high grade anthrax.

Is there any word at all about the grade of the anthrax that was found there at AMI, whether or not that was some that maybe suspected to be either some sort of terrorist grade, if you will, if there is such a term, or if it was just naturally kind of anthrax or what.

ZARRELLA: Right. That struck me as very, very interesting too Leon because initially, and I haven't heard any new reports on this, but initially, health officials here and doctors here were saying that this looked like it might have been a naturally occurring form of anthrax that had been used in this case, because it was responding to antibiotics like penicillin and like Cipro.

So they thought that it was not what you would consider - in fact the FBI bioterrorism experts, epidemiologists just last week in a press conference made the same remark, saying that this did not appear to be a weaponized version of anthrax, what they were dealing with here.

So it may not have come from the same batch. It does not appear that there were similarities, at least from what we're hearing on the ground here. Leon.

HARRIS: Good deal, interesting, and that could be even better news for Ernesto Blanco. John Zarrella, thank you very much. We'll check back with you later on.

Kyra, over to you.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well the demand is exploding for Cipro, the anthrax antibiotic made by the Bayer Corporation. Bayer holds the only patent on Cipro until 2003 and the company is now producing it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Bayer wants to head off an effort by Senator Charles Schumer. He wants the government to begin by buying a generic version of Cipro in mass quantities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, (D), NEW YORK: When you have an emergency situation, which we clearly have with anthrax, I think you don't want rely on one producer, and particularly one producer that is still charging through the roof, to say they'll freeze the price isn't of much consolation when the generic price would be half to a third as much.

And so we're trying to get other alternative producers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Cipro used to treat a variety of infections was approved as an anthrax treatment in August of last year.

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