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Dan Nichols Holds Press Conference

Aired October 25, 2001 - 09:02   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to quickly tune in to what Lieutenant Dan Nichols is saying right now. He's updating us on the Capitol Hill investigations.


LT. DAN NICHOLS, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: ... following the course of the letter that it was a smaller-type sample.

This is now the fifth location within the Capitol complex where we have found traces of anthrax. The investigators are continuing to follow this very closely. Environmental sampling is continuing throughout the other buildings.

This morning I am pleased to announce that the Rayburn House Office building and the Cannon House Office building have opened for business at 9:00 this morning. Members, staff and visitors are actually entering those buildings as we speak. We anticipate the Ford House Office building to open tomorrow. And we do not anticipate the Longworth House Office building to be opened until at least Monday. We're continuing to analyze that situation.

The members of staff who normally occupy the Longworth House Office building are going to continue to work out of the General Accounting Office until further notice. This morning, also, the O'Neil House Office building opened for normal business.

At my side I have Dr. John Eisold and he's going to give you a medical update.


In terms of how the health on the Hill is, we are in a static situation. The positives that we talked about before have been verified. They are truly positive. There are no new positive biological samples on people. The environmental sample that the lieutenant talked about is something that is important to us and to the epidemiology of the situation, so that we will obviously try to identify if there is something who perhaps has used that elevator besides the postal workers which, as you know, we have identified the hot areas in the Dirksen building and the P Street and the Ford building and we have treated those people.

We will try to make sure that there is nobody that we have missed, and so that every piece of new information that we get requires analysis, judgment and then follow-on treatment if necessary. So that's the track we're taking. It does not affect what we're doing medically otherwise on the Hill.

We feel confident but vigilant that we have identified the areas that we are concerned about, that we have identified the people that require treatment and we continue to follow them.

NICHOLS: If I can add one more thing. Last night was the first time we started remediation within the Capitol complex also. We used antibacterial foam to remediate the Dirksen mailroom, which is in the Dirksen Senate Office building, and also the Ford House Office building mailroom. After that foam was applied and the rooms were remediated, they were then sealed and they will remain sealed until further notice.

We'll be happy to answer any questions you have now.

QUESTION: Concerning the occasion that the Daschle letter went through that (OFF-MIKE) elevator...

NICHOLS: That's part of the investigation we're following and that's why -- actually the environmental sampling took a specific course and that's part of the reasoning behind the sampling that was done. We also have a criminal investigation ongoing also.

QUESTION: Dr. Eisold, there's a woman at the hospital this morning who we understand has suspicious symptoms, someone who is a journalist, who worked in the Hart building. Did that make you want to expand the perimeter of people that need to be on antibiotics?

EISOLD: I think it's important to put everything in context and I will talk about her specifically, but I want to talk about a more global issue first; and, that is, I used the word vigilant before, and that is that we are evaluating people all the time who present with symptoms that are flu-like -- for lack of a better word -- to make sure that we are not missing people who are seriously ill, so that we're doing that in my clinic all the time. There is nothing different that happened about the admission to Holy Cross except that it's a different site. And perhaps -- I feel confident that people that we see, I can keep my arms around and have them follow-up.

As you can imagine, in hospitals around the area in an emergency room, it is not quite that easy to keep track of somebody, so that admitting them does not necessarily mean that they are seriously ill. Right now we're dealing with a situation where I think people can't be too cautious. So that admitting that person for observation is the right thing to do, and anybody who's in the front lines in the emergency rooms around this area is going to be very careful, so that in terms of that person, to be honest with you, there are two things:

Number one, there are some doctor-patient confidentialities; things that they won't share with me and that I can't share with anybody else. Number two, is that I would urge people not to jump ahead of the clinical situation. The clinical situation will tell us everything we need to know. I have good reason to believe that this person will turn out to be fine, will not be another index case.

Am I 100 percent sure? Not yet, until she goes home and some of the tests are negative. But beyond that, I am concerned about anybody who was on the Hill and in the Hart. I've had questions from the press and photographers who were on the other side of the railing and all -- everything -- so that I care about anybody, and they are not congressmen, they are not senators, they are not visitors, they are not staff. Everybody is a potential patient and they are all treated the same. So that -- I guess I just want to reassure the group here because it might be one of your colleagues that -- you are as important to me as everybody else.

QUESTION: Doctor, wasn't that a person who was tested, got swabbed and received cipro? Or have you not seen her because she's...

EISOLD: To be honest with you, I don't have enough information to be able to validate that in terms of names.

QUESTION: You don't know the person's name?

EISOLD: Again, this is something that the hospital -- that's their patient; that's not my patient. And I know it's hard for people to believe, but there actually are standards that we go by in the medical field and medical release.

QUESTION: Sure. But do you think that it's important for you to gather and treat other people?

EISOLD: We will, you know...

ZAHN: We're going to stay on this picture and quickly bring you up to date on the latest from Capitol Hill and the U.S. Capitol Police. Lieutenant Dan Nichols confirming that there have been no new positive, in his words, biological samples on people.

This comes on the heels of confirmation that more of that deadly bacteria has been found on Capitol Hill near a freight elevator in the Hart Senate Office Building. That's the same building where an anthrax-tainted letter was delivered to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office.

Now, a journalist who was actually in that building is being treated for possible anthrax. The officials here are not being able to -- or at least choosing not to share with us very specific information on that journalist's case, just referring to her as a female.

Now, this comes to us on the heels of some information that former President Clinton's office in Harlem had received several vials of an unknown substance at his Harlem office three weeks ago. An aide opened it. The people who have spoken with John King couldn't confirm what the original substance was, but apparently whatever was inside those vials spoiled and created salmonella.

Let's go to Dr. Sanjay Gupta to cover a whole range of issues here. Can you imagine -- and I know we're all playing a guessing game here -- but can you imagine what substance might have been in these vials that would have created salmonella?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you know typically salmonella tends to reside in undercooked poultry, chicken, that type of thing -- even raw eggs, Paula. You know, it's really hard to say. Certainly, the reason a bacteria like that would grow is because it had the ideal sort of nutrient base, which oftentimes is undercooked meat, or uncooked meat, or raw eggs. So it is a guessing game, but that would be a couple of things that would spring to mind -- things that -- where you might expect to see salmonella after a short time.

ZAHN: And officials who have spoken with John King say those vials are now being tested. It sounded like they knew more about the substance than what they were willing to share with us, but we need to make it very clear that President Clinton didn't get anywhere near this. As is the case with all former presidents, they're not directly opening their own mail.

But once again, there were several vials, apparently. They were closed in an envelope. There was a substance, apparently, that spoiled, creating the salmonella in the vials; and those tests should be completed at some point so we give our audience a better idea of what was inside them.

GUPTA: Right.

ZAHN: But once again we should also say those officials are confirming that they don't believe this has anything to do with this anthrax scare.

GUPTA: Right, right; that's exactly what they said.

You know, and Paula salmonella is not a very effective bioterrorism tool. Nobody is saying that's what it was here; but just for the sake of perspective, the salmonella is a bacteria -- it's not encapsulated by these spores that we've been hearing so much about. So it's very vulnerable to environmental changes. It wouldn't last in an envelope alone; that's probably why it was in the vials, or why it was able to stay alive in the vials in.

You know, who knows? There has been, in this country, actually reports in the past, in the mid-'80s of people actually putting some salmonella in salad bars and things like that to try and get people sick. But, again, salmonella was -- is very easily treatable, if it even needs to be treated. Most times it just goes away on its own.

So very different; very, very different from the anthrax that we've been hearing about.

ZAHN: All right, Sanjay stand by because I also want to come back to you and get more information on how it was that this journalist, simply standing in this elevator where apparently trace of anthrax have been found got sick or is being treated for anthrax exposure.

Right now, though, let's head to Rea Blakey, who is standing by at a hospital that unfortunately has become all too familiar, because this is one of the hospitals where many postal workers in the D.C. area have gone for testing for potential anthrax exposure and for treatment.

Rea, what's the latest from there this morning?

REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well this morning, Paula, we have at least five people who are connected to the Brentwood mail facility, which had a number of hot spots. We anticipate that at least two of those individual patients will receive test results today either confirming or denying their specific infection with anthrax. They are obviously being treated with antibiotics, all five of them.

And then also there's the journalist that's been mentioned. She, too, is being treated. We understand that she was, in fact, outside Senator Tom Daschle's office on the day that the letter was opened, and received that anthrax-laced letter. However, you may have heard Dr. Dan Eisold, who is the medical director there on Capitol Hill, indicate that the medical condition of all the folks on the Hill at this point is static. In other words, we're not assuming at this point, at least Mr. -- Dr. Eisold is not, that this is another confirmation.

So at this point what we still have is four confirmed cases of anthrax infection in the Washington area.


BLAKEY (voice-over): No new cases of confirmed anthrax infection reported in Washington, but a growing number of people with suspicious symptoms, including the first case connected to the U.S. Senate: a member of the news media who had been in the building where the anthrax-laden letter to Senator Tom Daschle was opened.

MAYOR ANTHONY WILLIAMS, WASHINGTON: These are clinical illnesses, with some features that could suggest anthrax, but it is not an officially suspected case.

BLAKEY: Public health officials claim the growing numbers are actually a good sign that area doctors are alert to possible early signs of disease. All total in Washington: two have died from inhalation anthrax, two more remain hospitalized in serious condition with the disease. At least six are in are hospitals with suspicious symptoms and tests pending.

Health officials admit they underestimated the danger to postal workers, from even a sealed envelope containing anthrax.

DAVID SATCHER, SURGEON GENERAL: Clearly, we know now that the risk of exposure to an envelope passing through a post office is real. We didn't know that before.

BLAKEY: But it did little to soothe the growing bitterness among postal workers who feel they weren't properly protected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now you're telling us the mail must go, rain, sleet, hail or snow. They said nothing about anthrax.

BLAKEY: The postal service said while there's no guarantee the nation's mail is safe, the chance of anthrax contamination is so small, it doesn't justify shutting down service.

JOHN POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL: Life is filled with risk, and you know, you could die crossing a street, you can die driving a car. And that's not to minimize what's going on here, because we did lose two of our own. But it's to suggest that, you know, you just don't shut the postal service down.

You know, if you think about it, how would you ever start it up?


BLAKEY: This reminder, the postmaster general was also warning Americans to wash their hands thoroughly after they handle any mail -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rea, thanks so much.




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