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Bill Frist Holds Press Conference

Aired October 18, 2001 - 13:42   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Taking you to the capitol now; Senator Tom Daschle, I believe it is, although I'm having -- I'm sorry, this is Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. Let's listen


SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: ... what I'd like to do is introduce. But we'll take questions, because I know a lot of you have questions.

I want to begin by saying that today's press conference involves a lot of good news. And as most of you know, I'm very upbeat, very optimistic. This is new not just for us here in Washington or in the Senate, but it's really new for the United States of America in terms of responding to a biological threat that had as its intent terrible destruction.

One of the challenges we have is the public health threat -- defined not just for the public at large, but the individuals who today are very anxious. About two hours ago or three hours ago, I was over at our off-center site where we have scores of people lined up, appropriately asking questions. What is anthrax? What does it mean to me? Is it contagious?

Most of the questions you can answer, but even today certain questions you can't answer. As I've mentioned to you before, this is an ongoing event. It's an event that happens at a point in time, but because it takes time to grow cultures and to do the test, what we say at any one point in time has to be built upon the next point in time and the next point in time. And data is coming in all of the time.

Some of you will have questions -- you said this yesterday, and you shifted today. We will comment upon that, but all of you need to understand that this is an ongoing, continuing investigation. Just the nature of culture data, looking under the microscope, contacting people, communication is one that is continuous over time.

Things are under control. The system is working. People are working together in a harmonious, almost symphonic way. The anxiety continues to bubble up by individuals, and everybody is doing their best with appropriate counseling as we go through. So it gives me a great deal of very good feeling and positive feeling to announce the good news. And the good news follows yesterday where we had 31 cases that tested positive. A positive nasal swab does not predict anything for that individual, and that's very hard for people to understand. It's an environmental test. It's a surveillance test so that we and the epidemiologists can track overall exposure. It does not predict disease, and as you will hear, most public health officials say, in terms of individual case management, it's not helpful. It's hard to understand because people think if that individual test affects them, it should determine whether or not they have antibiotics. We'll come back to that.

The second point I want to make is that this anthrax is sensitive to all the antibiotics out there for which it was tested. We'll continue to test for culture sensitivity. But antibiotics, when they're started at the appropriate time, are 100 percent effective against anthrax disease. And that's important because people say again and again, "What if I develop this disease? What can I do?" And we're going to describe a little bit about who should be taking antibiotics and who shouldn't.

But I will say, and the public health officials who are in this business can either restate it or put it in other terms, but what it boils down to is what we say today as specific recommendations are based on the very best information that we have at that point in time. And we are depending on the CDC and the tremendous expertise there for the specific recommendations.

Let me just also set a broader stage, and the actual briefing I'm going to turn over to the deputy surgeon general. But for me, because I've had the opportunity as a senator and as a physician and as someone who has spent his adult life around infectious disease, I've had the opportunity to sit in the room hour after hour with these people, but many other people involved. And I want all of you to have an understanding of the number of people that have come together to address this issue. And this is the same way you do it if it happened anywhere in the United States of America. I say that because our public health system is critical. It's critical to support and it involves this teamwork and coordination.

The people just over the course of today, in terms of overall screening and surveillance -- NIOSH, which is the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; EPA -- the Environmental Protection Agency; the CDC, who is represented here with me; Fort Detrick labs, or the Medical Research and Material Command of the U.S. Army; the Office of the Surgeon General, again represented up here with me; Health and Human Services; and I'll say especially the Capitol Police, who are out there every day, and those of us in the Senate family depend so much on them who are doing such a tremendous job; obviously Department of Defense with DARPA -- Roger, who I will introduce here shortly; and many others.

All of this is falling under the leadership of Senator Daschle and his office. And again, watching it from the inside, the coordination is going along very well.

With that, you have been introduced to everybody in our previous news conference. We did a news conference midday yesterday, last night, today. We're going to try to keep these on a fairly regular basis to keep you informed.

Let me just briefly tell you who is up here with me. Dr. Ken Moritsugu, who you have heard yesterday, will do the briefing, deputy surgeon general from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Next to him, all of you know, Dr. John Eisold from the Attending Physicians Office, who is overseeing the medical aspects of the Senate and the Senate staff.

Roger Gibbs, who is program manager from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who is overseeing the environmental and surveillance, and he can take your questions on that if need be.

And Dr. Rima Khabbaz from the Centers for Disease Control, again, you met her yesterday. She's deputy director, Division of Viral Disease, at the National Center for infectious Disease.

With that, Dr. Moritsugu, why don't give you an update, in terms of where we are today. We want to focus -- again, people are going to be tempted about weaponization of anthrax and all, you know, what's the CIA, what's the FBI doing? Again, we are the public health aspect, and we want to address those issues principally today.

Ken, why don't you step forward and give us the overview.


It has now been 72 hours after this incident occurred, and we continue to receive good news. Beyond the 31 positive nasal swabs we reported yesterday, the results of nasal swabs analyzed to date have come back negative. The CDC has determined that no further nasal swabs are needed.

Tests on all of the nasal swabs collected on Monday will be completed by the end of today. A total of 278 swabs were taken on Monday. And as I said, at this time, there are no further positive results.

So the number of positive results remains at 31, as we have already reported yesterday. Everyone who tested positive has been notified by the medical authorities.

Testing also continues on approximately 1,400 swabs that were collected on Tuesday. Of these, there are preliminary results on approximately 600, and they have produced no new positives.

The CDC continues its investigation. To this point, that investigation has established the exposure area as the fifth and the sixth floors in the southeast wing of the Hart Building on Monday. And based on this determination, the CDC has determined that no further swabs are needed.

People who were on the fifth and sixth floors in the southeast wing of the Hart Building on Monday are reminded to complete their full 60-day course of antibiotics, regardless of the results of their nasal swab, because we have been able to determine that that area is an exposure area. Anyone who entered that area but has not received antibiotics should report to the treatment center at the Architect of the Capitol facility on the southeast corner of 6th and East Capitol Streets.

A thorough environmental sweep of the Capitol complex began last night went on through the night, and continues today. These sweeps were conducted by the EPA and by NIOSH, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Areas were swept in the Capitol, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Ford House Office Building and the Capitol Police off- site delivery area, where all Capitol mail and deliveries go through security screening.

At this time, we have no additional results to report. The sweeps will continue over the next several days of other areas in the Capitol complex.

Numerous additional samples have been taken of the ventilation systems. And these samples are under evaluation. At this time, there is no evidence of contamination in the ventilation systems.

FRIST: Ken, thank you very much.

We have a range of people here before you. I know there are a number of questions, and I do ask you to keep the questions focused on the public health aspect.

Again, you can see this is very good news. I'm very optimistic, as I mentioned, about the overall state of affairs, where we are today There are a lot of people with a lot of anxiety. And it's important for us to get the information out to people quickly, and we're doing our very best with that.

I'll be happy to take your questions, but I'll be directing them principally to...

QUESTION: Senator, can you explain to us how the sweeps work (OFF-MIKE)?

FRIST: We certainly will. And all of you, the Senate has been in session today. And we've been at work and we've been voting and carried our work. But again, for people outside of this room, the buildings that we work in, the three Senate buildings and the House buildings have been closed.

The surveillance and sweep -- Roger, why don't you come forward and address that.

ROGER GIBBS, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: What we've been doing are the same things that we talked about at the earlier conferences. We are conducting sampling of primarily surfaces, at this stage, the same thing we were doing before. Looking for any spread of the material. We've continued doing that in the mail room facility that the letter has gone through. In fact, we've been tracing it back through all the mail facilities. Now, that's why we've introduced the area on P Street, the off-site delivery facility that the U.S. Capitol uses. So all these areas are being looked at.

We're tackling the surface sweeps. It's really just a gauze pad that you use to wipe on to a surface. Collect any material that's there. That sample is then sealed up and delivered for analysis. We also have devices that allow us to basically concentrate. If there's only a very small amount of material, then we can vacuum that material up, concentrate that onto a piece of filter paper, and deliver that sample for analysis.

So we can look for very small amounts of these materials on these surfaces.

The other thing that we're doing is making use of aerosol samplers or airborne samplers so that we can determine is there anything in the air. Everything we've been doing so far has been focused on the surfaces, the letter originally, material on the floor, material on the mail machines and so forth. But we do want to start just taking a look in the air. We've had no indications through the medical surveillance side of the spread of material through the air, but we want to do that with some filters as well.

So that's what we've been working on.

QUESTION: Can you narrow down the positives a little bit more for us? Are all the people with the positive nasal swabs actually in Senator Daschle's office or in the mail room, Senator Daschle's office, or is there anybody that, for instance, was in the hallway or the stairwell or anything like that (OFF-MIKE)?

MORITSUGU: The individuals that we've identified, as you are aware, in the previous report, there are individuals in Senator Daschle's office, I believe there were three individuals in Senator Feingold's office, and I believe five individual who are with the Capitol Police.

QUESTION: But were all of those people at some point in Senator Daschle's office?

MORITSUGU: To our current information, that is correct. I could...


MORITSUGU: No, no, I'm sorry. Excuse me. When you say Senator Daschle's office -- thank you for the clarification. Or in Senator Feingold's office.

QUESTION: Have you contacted all the people who went into that office? I saw a guy going in there delivering pizza that day. I mean, have you reached out to anybody who could have gone into that office?

MORITSUGU: I will need to turn this over to our CDC person? (CROSSTALK)

FRIST: It is important -- right now, of the 31 cases, we can speak to that, that are there, again, it's not predictive of disease, it's of exposure. So it is very important for us to know who went out, who was there. Again, it's the fifth and sixth floor on the southeast quadrant, and it is important for us to know of people who were there, either passing through during the day or who work in those offices. It's important from an epidemiologic standpoint.

We are defining this disease, which has never really been defined before in the history of this country, and it is very important from a scientific standpoint, in part for what's going on here, but in part because this becomes a model for what happens elsewhere in the world.

So I just want to send out the signal, if it's been misunderstood or it hadn't been made very directly, that the people in this quadrant, fifth and sixth floor, who were there (inaudible) passing through, we want both tested and on 60 days of antibiotics, number one.

Number two, if you have not let us know, we do need to know who you are. If you went to a private physician, you need to let, and I'll let Rima explain how that should be done.


RIMA KHABBAZ, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: The decision to treat everyone who was on the fifth and sixth floor of that quadrant basis is basically, you know, caution. We err on the side of over-treating than under-treating. As was stated by Senator Frist and by the assistant surgeon general, the positive folks were either in Senator Daschle's office (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There was one individual, one responder who did not go in Senator Daschle's, so it was outside in the hall, close by, at the corner there, among the positives. And that's why the decision to go broadly and treat everyone on those floors.

Now, I will add in that doors open and close and people move in and out, and so that's based on all the epidemiologic and the testing, as Senator Frist mentioned, testing is -- nasal swabs was to define areas of exposure, and in that case that really help us define those areas.

QUESTION: Did Senator Feingold's people (OFF-MIKE) Senator Daschle's office? And number two, you know, there were a whole lot of media folk who were on the other side of the atrium taking pictures all afternoon. Would those people be in the 60-day Cipro category?

KHABBAZ: People went in and out of the offices, the two adjacent -- Senator Feingold and Daschle, in and out, and so I cannot answer specifically to you that anyone went out and went in. But people were in and out of that hall. And so the recommendation is to treat everyone who has been in that quadrant floors, fifth and sixth floor, anytime during the day. And again, we're going broader than what we think might be actual exposure, to err on the side of public health. QUESTION: I think what we're trying to (inaudible), are you including in that the hallway area that runs from 509, which is Senator Daschle's office, to 503, which is Senator Breaux's office, and people on the perimeter of that hallway?

KHABBAZ: That whole quadrant, southeast wing, yes...


FRIST: What we'll do, to clarify this, we'll bring a map at our next briefing and show you what the quadrant is.

QUESTION: Senator?


QUESTION: Senator, just to clarify, you're still saying there have been no infections, right? And the second is, this is a 60-day regimen, which is much longer than what was given to people that were possibly exposed in Florida and New York. Why is that?

FRIST: I can't. I can't. Dr. Eisold is here.

First of all, I can't speak to the treatment down there. The 60- day treatment is recommended by the CDC, which we're following, for people who were in, as judged by the CDC, in an area of risk, again, tiny risk, I would say, overall, for development of the disease. And that's 60 days of antibiotics. We're using Cipro here. There are other antibiotics which we could be using.

John, you want to comment?


JOHN EISOLD, ATTENDING PHYSICIANS OFFICE: Actually, I'm not sure where that impression would come from. But just talking with the admiral here, as well as our representative from CDC, anybody who was felt to be similarly exposed in a contaminated area in that setting would have been treated with 60 days, per the recommendation.

QUESTION: And the infection question. Say it again.

QUESTION: Yes. You still say there is no sign of any infection among these 31?

EISOLD: That is correct.

QUESTION: Regarding infection, Doctor, what's the incubation period for this, and when will the (OFF-MIKE) person know or see about infections?

EISOLD: I think there is, you know, a broad range. You could start to see symptoms on somebody untreated perhaps in six days. And then, somebody might take weeks to present. Somebody on treatment, I think it would be unpredictable. But we're fairly confident that on full treatment, you will not see anybody with symptoms. QUESTION: Senator, you said that there was no evidence of contamination in the ventilation system. Can you say now that anthrax spores have not spread anywhere beyond the fifth and sixth floors?

FRIST: The purpose of shutting down the buildings, the office buildings, is to do an environmental survey. It's not really because we think those buildings are at risks at all. Otherwise, we wouldn't have allowed things to continue at all.

And that survey is ongoing. And as that survey, the swabs that are taken today, will come alive in terms of the plating and the streaking 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours. And that's why I prefaced this whole press conference with saying information will continue to come out. Based on the data that we had, those 31 cases that we have a positivity, the CDC is comfortable with the specific recommendations. People do not need treatment, if you were not in that block of the fifth and sixth floor. That's what the CDC has told us.

What was the second part of the question?

QUESTION: Has it spread any (OFF-MIKE)?

FRIST: Oh, no the ventilation system -- I can let Roger respond, but I'll give you the lay person's interpretation. We know that there was an event that happened at a single spot. And we know that in that surrounding that there are 31 people, to define the area, again...

WOODRUFF: As Senator Frist talks about anthrax at the Capitol, we are going to go over to the Defense Department, where Secretary Don Rumsfeld begins his briefing.





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