Anthrax kills two Washington postal workers

Click to follow
The Independent US

Two Washington postal workers died under suspicious circumstances and up to a dozen others were feared to have contracted the most dangerous, respiratory form of anthrax as the scare gripping America became even more alarming.

Two Washington postal workers died under suspicious circumstances and up to a dozen others were feared to have contracted the most dangerous, respiratory form of anthrax as the scare gripping America became even more alarming.

Health and postal officials said they could not yet confirm the cause of the two deaths, but initial testing on one of the deceased looked ominous. The director of the Washington health department, Ivan Walks, said: "Our index of suspicion is very high with respect to the bacteria that has been cultured from his blood."

The second victim checked into a hospital in Maryland yesterday morning and was dead within hours. Testing was also being done in his case.

Two others were confirmed to have contracted respiratory anthrax, and as many as nine others with flu-like symptoms were being tested.

Dr Walks said the apparent outbreak of inhalational anthrax – as opposed to the much less dangerous, cutaneous form of the disease that has affected half a dozen journalists and postal workers in the New York region – had completely changed the nature and scale of the crisis.

One postal worker, named by colleagues as Leroy Richmond, 57, was diagnosed with respiratory anthrax at the weekend after complaining of fever and chest pains and was said to be in serious condition in a Virginia hospital. A second postal worker at the same hospital was also diagnosed with respiratory anthrax. Both men were being given antibiotics. John Potter, the US Postmaster General, said of Mr Richmond that "the prognosis is good, but the next 24 hours are critical".

The affected postal employees worked at the main Washington sorting facility on Brentwood Road, which handled the anthrax-laced letter delivered to the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, 10 days ago. Officials would not comment on whether the outbreak of anthrax was linked to that letter alone, or whether other letters were involved.

Both the Brentwood facility and a second postal building at the Baltimore-Washington international airport have been closed indefinitely. More than 2,000 employees at the two locations have been urged to come forward for testing and for precautionary treatment with the antibiotic ciproflaxocin. Representatives of the federal Centres for Disease Control who had cleared the two buildings last week returned to run further tests in case of any new contagion.

Hundreds of postal workers lined up at Washington General Hospital yesterday morning, expressing concerns not only for their immediate well-being but also for possible future dangers. Postal officials said they would have to review the way mail was handled.

On Capitol Hill, where the Washington anthrax scare broke out last week, both the Senate and House of Representatives were reopened to visitors.

The chambers themselves will reconvene today. Health inspectors have found anthrax spores in three separate government-related locations – the building housing Mr Daschle's offices, a Senate mail sorting facility and a House mail sorting facility.

If the latest deaths are confirmed to be anthrax-related, they would bring the total death toll to three. Bob Stevens, a tabloid picture editor in Boca Raton, Florida, died of respiratory anthrax on October 5, in the first indication of a concerted biological attack. Another tabloid employee in Florida, Ernesto Blanco, is still in hospital recovering from the same form of anthrax.

Several dozen others are taking antibiotics after testing positive for exposure to the bacteria. Investigators have yet to find any solid leads on the origin of the spores or the identity of the perpetrators.

Comments