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New York's First Inhalation Anthrax Victim Dies

Aired October 31, 2001 - 09:25   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And if you're just joining us, we do have some breaking news to report that New York's first case of inhalation anthrax has claimed a victim, Kathy Nguyen, 61 years old, who died very early this morning at Lenox Hill Hospital here in the city.

Let's quickly go to Dr. Sanjay Gupta for his perspective on what we think happened here.

Sanjay, I think we need to make it clear to the audience that investigators are not only combing Ms. Nguyen's apartment but they've taken some 40 samples from the area where she worked, 10 of which have come back negative. You know 30 more to be tested and the test results revealed.

What do you think we're looking at here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Paula, I think first of all we're certainly reminded of just how deadly inhalational anthrax can be. She certainly had a quick course, and it ended up being deadly in this case.

I talked to a lot of doctors about what can be done in this sort of situation, someone presents with these sorts of symptoms. And these environmental samples really are the best thing that can be done, sort of to diagnosis whether or not anthrax might be in that area and affect other people. She certainly had blood tests, all that sort of work done as well, but that -- those tests oftentimes come back after symptoms have already started, Paula, as we saw in this case. And after symptoms have started, sometimes it's very hard to treat. So I think the investigation will have to continue and it may take a few days before we know where the anthrax came from, if we ever know at all.

ZAHN: Can you walk us through the steps of the incubation period that is involved either with the skin form of this or the inhaled kind?

GUPTA: Absolutely. Usually what we're talking about are spores one to five micron in size. Again, they're actually breathed in through the nose or the mouth, go down into the lungs. From there they actually get into the smallest part of the lungs called the alveoli. One common misconception here, Paula, is that these spores actually cause pneumonia. They typically don't cause pneumonia. They can take up to 60 days to actually germinate. Germinate, in this case, means release their toxins, which subsequently get into your lymph glands, suppresses your immune system. They can get into your bloodstream causing massive infection and they can get into your cerebral spinal fluid causing a condition known as meningitis, or infection of the brain.

As I said, it can take up to 60 days. The typical period is usually two to seven days before symptoms start. And as we saw in this case, this unfortunate woman developed symptoms last Thursday and so four or five days later she succumbed to all that.

ZAHN: Yes, the unfortunate thing is that she continued to work on Thursday and Friday even though she wasn't feeling, you know, so good and didn't check herself into a hospital until the weekend.

GUPTA: Exactly.

ZAHN: Give us the backdrop against which this news is breaking, and that is you've got the head of NIH, Dr. Anthony Fauci, yesterday talking about the concern of people potentially receiving tainted mail at home and now today, talking about the potential of cross- contamination from one infected letter to another.

GUPTA: Yes, the -- you know the backdrop is very interesting. And I think certainly the landscape has changed tremendously with this new inhalational case in New York and the case in New Jersey of cutaneous. I think that it's gone from being just an anthrax infection infecting postal workers, politicos, media types, to potentially affecting all sorts of other people. Where that's going to be targeted, how these infections can be stopped, perhaps at the postal facility, perhaps earlier in the chain than that is something that I think a lot of people are looking at.

ZAHN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as always, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

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