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Maryland Health Official Announces Postal Workers are Being Checked for Anthrax

Aired October 23, 2001 - 16:17   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A news conference is underway in suburban Maryland, in Silver Spring. Two workers from the Brentwood facility now, we are told, and we are going to join this in progress, are being treated with suspicious symptoms, very much like anthrax. We are going to -- let's listen in now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The patients who are asymptomatic, we are strongly recommending in concert with the public health departments, that they be evaluated, registered with and tested by public health departments.

Patients who are symptomatic need to be evaluated in a clinical facility such as either our offices or an emergency room.

QUESTION: People don't want to wait until they have symptoms. The question is, one, did the 41-year-old woman work at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Street facility as well, and two, what will you do for the people who work at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Street facility if that is true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those patients had occupational exposures within the Brentwood facility as far as I know. And as I said, we are recommending that asymptomatic patients should -- in order that we can better evaluate for the public health aspect, not be treating people in an individual -- you know, in a basis that won't benefit our knowledge of the public health aspects of this situation.

QUESTION: But you tested everybody at Brentwood. Are you telling me...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- excuse me. The public health department is testing people at Brentwood.

QUESTION: Right, the question is though, the B Street facility, you are saying that neither one of these people had any...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm saying that both people had exposures in places -- in a place where anthrax -- where anthrax testing is already being done.

QUESTION: But B Street specifically, did they work at B street as well? That is really important for people who work there. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure why that would be significant in cases where it's not yet -- it's not yet confirmed that these people have anthrax. So these people are still being evaluated for anthrax. I think that based on the results of the evaluation we can understand better who should be -- whether the testing should be widened.

QUESTION: Can you characterize in as much detail as possible the condition of the two patients sense they checked in, sort of through the hours? Have they gotten progressively better? Are they staying the same?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those patients are stable.

QUESTION: Is it a man and a woman?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are treating them with antibiotics. We discussed these cases with the Centers for Disease Control, and we are taking the recommendations as far as their antibiotic treatment.

QUESTION: Do you know whether they have the inhalation form or the cutaneous form?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know whether they have anthrax. We are evaluating them for anthrax.

QUESTION: Are they showing symptoms of inhalational anthrax?

WOODRUFF: We are listening to a health official, we are told this is the Venice Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. He has been describing two more people, we believe these are among the suspicious cases that the District of Columbia health officials told us about earlier today.

He has identified two people, not by name but by age: A 35-year- old man and 41-year-old woman who came in overnight with flu-like symptoms. They are now at what is -- at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. You have to bear with me. This information is coming in in bits and pieces just as it has throughout the day.

And to help me sort it out and to help you sort it out, I want to bring in our medical correspondent, Rea Blakey.

Rea, I want to get all these -- not all of the numbers straight, that's too much to do, but is it your understanding that these two cases that we're hearing about now in Silver Spring, Maryland are among those that the district health officials were concerned about?

REA BLAKEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Judy, that is something I can not confirm at this point -- reason being that those are really two separate jurisdictions.

The District of Columbia and the health department there has been working, obviously, with the cases that mainly focused at Brentwood. So it is possible that those two cases of suspected anthrax in Montgomery County may be associated. However, they really are two separate jurisdictions. And so we really don't know at this point if that's among the number that was previously mentioned or whether or not that's a separate entity.

What we do know from the District, specifically, from their public health officials, they indicated that there were four confirmed cases in D.C. That would include the two deaths that were confirmed as of yesterday, two individuals who are in serious condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and then also four cases that the D.C. public health commissioner suggested were suspicious -- he listed them as suspicious -- and then an additional 12 cases that he said were not quite as suspicious, but they were keeping their eye on.

So among those numbers, it's quite possible that those Silver Spring suspected cases may be in there, but we really just don't know for sure at this time.

WOODRUFF: Rea, as I understand it, the new wrinkle in all of this today is that the decision has been made to much more aggressively treat people. Now, clearly, there are going to be postal workers and their families who are saying it wasn't soon enough. But they're now saying that people who were handling any mail that went through the Brentwood facility on to other postal offices in the Washington area, those people have been asked to come in for testing and for antibiotics.

BLAKEY: You're absolutely right. We want to be make certain that people don't misunderstand. Family members, anybody who wasn't physically working in the facility, is not included in that. But you are right: The 36 facilities, postal facilities in the District of Columbia are soon to be tested, according to officials at the CDC, for the possibility of any anthrax exposure at those sites.

Now, including Brentwood, that would mean that officials would be looking at a potential nearly 5,000 postal employees who should in fact be treated. What they're saying for the employees who are outside the Brentwood facility is that those individuals don't have to wait to be tested. They want them to get on prophylactic antibiotic Cipro as soon as possible, a 10-day course, because they are going to skip ahead over the whole swabbing incident there and go straight to the treatment just because, obviously, this situation is growing exponentially, it would seem.

WOODRUFF: And now it seems, Rea, that this information we just heard from the White House about 20, 25 minutes ago from Ari Fleischer that they have found traces of anthrax -- and we got a little more just a moment ago from John King that they found traces of anthrax on a machine that slits open the letters.

This does indicate or suggests that it is very possible -- and John said this is what they are looking at this, that this is what happened -- that mail that went through Brentwood passed on to another facility, that the spores remained on those letters or packages. BLAKEY: And that seems to be a real issue for public health authorities. I mean, I have to tell you, Judy, to this point, it was indicated that they didn't think it was possible for anthrax spores to actually transport, if you will, on an envelope or through an envelope. And so this is all somewhat baffling to the members of the CDC who have spoken to the media in the last day or so.

But let me tell you that they also -- the CDC -- is testing the air ventilation system at Brentwood. And they are also waiting for test results from the priority mail area there. And so it's quite possible that there may be other areas of exposure that the CDC has not confirmed at this point.

Already they do know that there were 29 locations at the Brentwood facility that were swabbed or tested, and 14 of those showed up as positive hot spots. So, obviously, there's been some transmission. What the epidemiologists and the people at the CDC are trying to confirm is the exact trail, so that they can figure out how the transmission is occurring.

WOODRUFF: All right. As you say, those tests have not come back yet. They have conducted the test on the ventilation system and the other areas. But, so far, it looks concerning, to put it mildly, when you think of half the places they swabbed have come back positive.

All right, Rea Blakey, thank you very much for the update here in Washington.

As we have been watching the new cases of anthrax being reported here in the nation's capital, we are still keeping an eye on New Jersey, where another case of inhalation anthrax is strongly suspected.

Our Gary Tuchman is at the postal center in Hamilton Township -- hi, Gary.


It's an announcement that has certainly increased the anxiety level among postal workers here in the state of New Jersey. A woman who works in this postal sorting center behind me in Hamilton Township -- which is a bedroom community of Trenton, New Jersey -- has been diagnosed with the most dangerous type of anthrax, inhalation anthrax.

The woman, whose name has not been released, wasn't feeling good last week. She went to her doctor with respiratory problems, went to the hospital. And the preliminary diagnosis came back today: inhalation anthrax. Now, between this postal facility and another post office about 15 miles away from here in Ewing Township, New Jersey, there have been two cases of skin anthrax and one suspected case of skin anthrax. But this is the first case in New Jersey that appears to be of the inhalation variety.


EDDY BRESNITZ, NEW JERSEY EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Yesterday evening, we notified the physician of the results of those tests. The physician notified the patient and the family. They were very pleased to receive those results. Currently, the patient is on a number of different antibiotics, which will address and cover her infections. She's been on those for five days now. Her condition right now is serious, but stable. She is holding her own. Her temperature has improved.


TUCHMAN: To reiterate: She is in stable condition. "She is holding her own." You may recall at least three of the letters with anthrax were postmarked from this facility: the letter to NBC News, the letter to the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, and also the letter to "The New York Post".

Now, this facility behind me is closed right now. It's been closed since Thursday. It will stay closed indefinitely, because there are 13 hot spots inside it -- at least 13. There are a couple of white tents around. That's where they are doing some work of the post office. Hundreds of thousands of letters are inside; 60 percent of the letters, they are told, are being delivered at this point.

Now, we went in there and we were surprised to see that many of the workers inside that tent right now are not wearing gloves or any other protective gear while they're handling the mail.

We talked to some of the workers, and they told us they did not feel it was necessary, that they deal with millions of letters each week in this facility. Only three letters have had anthrax. They don't feel they need the gloves.

Inside this facility, approximately 1,000 employees work. They have all been told, if they haven't already, to go to the doctor to get checked and then to start 10 days of treatment with the antibiotic Cipro -- Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: So, Gary, they are taking the Cipro and they are continuing to work?

TUCHMAN: They are taking the Cipro and continuing to work. A short time ago -- there's actually a temporary booth just behind me where they're still selling stamps to the members of the public. There were two women in there. I talked with them. One of the women said she started the Cipro yesterday. The other employee said she's going to the doctor tomorrow, and she plans to start her Cipro tomorrow. And they both plan to continue working.

WOODRUFF: All right, Gary Tuchman reporting from Hamilton Township in New Jersey.




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