Preliminary tests indicate a 61-year-old hospital stockroom employee has contracted inhalation anthrax, the mayor of New York has said.
The woman was in "very, very serious" condition and on a respirator, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said on Monday night. She has been hospitalized since Sunday, when she went to an emergency room with a severe respiratory ailment.
The mayor said the woman is undergoing more testing. If confirmed, she would be the first New York resident to come down with the more dangerous inhaled form of the disease.
The source of the woman's infection was not known. She works at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in Manhattan.
New York City has had four confirmed skin anthrax cases, all linked to news media outlets.Investigators determined that anthrax-laced letters addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post passed through the city's biggest mail-sorting center.
Union leaders have repeatedly requested that the nine-story, 2-million-square-foot Morgan Processing and Distribution Center in midtown be closed for testing. Traces of anthrax were found on four sorting machines there.
On Monday, a postal workers union sued the U.S. Postal Service, seeking to force the closure of the facility.
"We're simply asking the post office to close the building and make sure it's safe," said William Smith, president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. "Test everybody and tell us they haven't been exposed. If that's not done, we shouldn't be in that building."
David Solomon, regional vice president for operations for the Postal Service, said medical experts say the contamination in the building is isolated and "can be safely blocked off and remedied accordingly without closing the building or jeopardizing our employees' health."
"If they tell us there is a danger to the safety of our employees we will close it down," he said.The lawsuit, filed by an attorney for the New York chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, claims the Postal Service engaged in the storage and transportation of hazardous substances without a permit.
"Lawsuits are for when things break down," lawyer Louie Nikolaidis said. "Obviously we have a situation with anthrax where things have broken down."
Absenteeism at the center has climbed to nearly 30 percent, the Postal Service said.No postal employees in New York have been diagnosed with anthrax.
Another lawsuit against the Postal Service was filed Monday in Florida. In that lawsuit, the American Postal Workers Union's South Florida local seeks an emergency hearing on a union request for speedy arbitration on demands to close, test and, if necessary, clean 10 to 12 facilities from Boca Raton to Miami.
The union accused the agency of foot-dragging on anthrax detection and employee safety and testing in south Florida, where the first victim, a tabloid photo editor, died.Postal Service spokeswoman Enola Rice said the agency would have no comment on the Florida lawsuit until officials have seen it.Reuse content