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Elderly Woman in Connecticut Has Confirmed Inhalation Anthrax

Aired November 21, 2001 - 10:07   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To Connecticut. To Governor John Rowland talking about the latest anthrax case, a 94-year-old woman, confirmed inhalation anthrax. The latest from that state now -- facility.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ROWLAND, GOVERNOR OF CONNECTICUT: We're also working with the two postal facilities, both in Wallingford and also in Seymour. Wallingford Postal Service was checked as early as -- late as November 11 for anthrax, and got a clean bill of health. The facility -- the Wallingford facility, and the Seymour facility are being examined even as we speak. I will be getting those results fairly soon. We've encouraged the employees, about 1,500 postal employees at both Seymour and Wallingford, to get the antibiotic treatment, to come to the facility. We have our personal there, and the postal personnel, and also have hospital personnel as a precaution to treat all of the employees from those two facilities. And, I underline as a precaution.

There's been concerns that anthrax is contagious from one person to another. It is not contagious -- from one person to another. So no one at Griffin Hospital is in danger of anthrax from the patient that is there, or from anyone else that's been affected. We have no other cases, we've got no other reports of people with the symptoms. We continue to be very concerned, and we'll reach out to people in the community, encourage them to come to the hospital to call their local doctor, to take the antibiotics if they would like peace of mind. I'm very pleased with the work of the postal officials who have been diligent in working with their employees, both last night and also early this morning.

We're obviously focussing on the mail, because that has been the cause of other anthrax scares in the past, and we have no other reason to believe that a 94-year-old woman would have contact with anthrax. Again, no other theories at this point. The FBI and the CDC continue to -- to work. We're just going to spend the rest of this day reaching out to those employees and even the firemen that have been to, for example, have been to the Wallingford post office responding to calls over the last several weeks. We encourage those people to be treated as well. Again, as precautions.

There is also a hair salon that was visited by the 94-year-old victim. I shouldn't say victim. 94-year-old woman who has been affected, the patient, and we are also treating people there, and again, as precaution. And we really have no other locations that the patient has visited. Having said that, I would be happy to take your questions and give you as much information as we have. This is an extraordinary circumstance.

I want to thank the CDC for their immediate response, and our local law enforcement. I have been in contact with the first selectman of Oxford, of Seymour, and of Wallingford, the mayor, and I've talked to them about the precautions that we're taking, and the investigation continues. And our thoughts and prayers are with the -- the 94-year-old woman and her family as she continues to battle this disease.

QUESTION: Governor Rowland, let me ask you this --

ROWLAND: Tom?

QUESTION: In terms of the FBI, what are you hearing from the FBI? Because sometimes it seems a little vague as to what they are doing.

ROWLAND: I'm not sure anything is vague by design. They clearly are trying to find any traces of anthrax using the swab methods, and working with CDC at the house, trying to trace the whereabouts of this -- of the woman over the last several weeks, and granted, at her age, she has not traveled a great deal. So, that's why the suspicions lead directly to the possibility of mail, cross-contamination of some sort.

QUESTION: How about, if I may, just one more question, about when you first heard about it, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a week or more, when were you first aware of this?

ROWLAND: First aware of it yesterday. Actually, the woman went in on Friday to Griffin Hospital and, again, the medical technicians there picked up on the anthrax issue, tested her at the time. The information then goes to the department of public health. We began the tests, I believe, on Sunday, and then Monday, we got those results, and then immediately began reporting those to CDC.

QUESTION: Why did it take that long? If she went into the hospital Friday, the tests don't take that long for the preliminary reports.

ROWLAND: That long from the hospital?

QUESTION: That long for you to find out about this.

ROWLAND: We were notified as soon as our public health folks had a positive indication, and then we contacted the CDC.

QUESTION: Do we know at this point whether they visited either of the postal facilities?

ROWLAND: We have no indication of that. But as I said, the investigation is continuing. We've treated the postal employee that delivers the mail to the patient from Oxford. QUESTION: Governor, it is unusual for people who have achieved major birthdays or anniversaries to get greetings have their Congressman or their United States senator. Is it possible she got a birthday greeting from Senator Dodd or something like that?

ROWLAND: I'd say, Mark, pretty much anything is possible. It's rather extraordinary if you think about a 94 year old woman in Oxford, Connecticut getting anthrax. It's extraordinary as well, the poor woman from New York. The medical -- medical personnel who was affected and died last month. That source is unknown as well. So perhaps the FBI can patch together this information. I know that I'm sure they're comparing information from both cases, and hopefully they'll come up with a source. But again, this is all new territory for everyone in this field, and we don't know much.

HEMMER: John Rowland, the governor. He mentioned the word extraordinary, said it three or four times by my count. And clearly, it is a huge mystery. A 94-year-old woman in a small town of Oxford, Connecticut, just a town of about 2,000 people in the southwestern part of that state. Admitted last Friday to a hospital, testing this week, and five different tests, apparently, confirmed inhalation anthrax. As the mystery continues, Michael Okwu standing by with one of the doctors who knows a bit more about this as well. Michael, good morning. What are they saying there in Derby, Connecticut?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very -- they are hopeful that -- I think it would be fair to say that doctors here are cautiously hopeful. I'm standing, now, with Doctor Quentzel who is the chief of infections -- infectious diseases here at Griffin Hospital. And Doctor, so much of our discussion this morning has been been how mysterious this case is. Does the medical team here also feel the same way? Do you regard this as a mystery?

DR. HOWARD QUENTZEL, GRIFFIN HOSPITAL: Well, I think that it's -- it came as a surprise to us, because of the patient did not have any identifiable risk factors. However, I think we had a high index of suspicion because of the previous cases that have been occurring recently. And so, I think that from pretty soon after the patient was admitted, at which time the blood cultures were identified as a positive for bacteria, that could be consistent with anthrax, the suspicion was there.

OKWU: Now, blood cultures are taken all the time when people feel some sort of illness. Did you look for anthrax, given the fact that we've had all of these other cases around the country, or was this bacteria so conspicuous to you as being anthrax?

QUENTZEL: Yes, I think the patient presented with nonspecific symptoms, with no epidemiologic factors that would have suggested anthrax, so this was not something that was suspected on admission. Certainly, the subsequent day, when the day the blood cultures, which had been done as a routine, turned up positive, that's when the suspicion began.

OKWU: Clearly, she is in critical condition right now. Can you talk to us a little bit, at all, about what her prognosis is? QUENTZEL: I really can't disclose that. I think that, as you should, she is -- remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

OKWU: OK. Has she spoken to doctors? Were you in the position to be able to speak to her, and if so, what, if anything, was she able to say to you, or provide you, by way of any clues, to how she came in contact with anthrax?

QUENTZEL: Earlier on in the admission, she was able to communicate, and we were not able to ascertain any risk factors, anything that would suggest where she might have acquired this.

OKWU: Okay. Dr. Quentzel, I appreciate your time.

QUENTZEL: Thank you very much.

OKWU: Clearly again, nobody here at the hospital wants to talk, necessarily, about what her prognosis is. They are -- again -- are guardedly optimistic, hoping that she will pull through. But at this point, again, she is in critical condition and we'll have more for you as this case develops. Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Michael. Thanks. Michael Okwu there, in Derby, Connecticut. There along the shoreline. And we should point out, in many cases of inhalation anthrax, the fatality rate is extremely high, but we'll track that.

A look at the latest numbers now on the anthrax case that we have followed now for the past two months. With this mornings confirmation, the number of definitive anthrax cases nationwide is now at 18. Of those, four have died, seven of the remaining cases involve the inhaled form, and seven involve cutaneous, or skin, anthrax. But clearly, as we have said many times, inhalation anthrax is the most serious case. And a 94-year-old woman, right now, is being looked at as many questions surface about what happened there.

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