Spores found at office used for President's mail

War on terrorism: Disease
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The Independent US

The White House was linked to the latest anthrax scare after news that spores of the bacteria had been detected at a centre that screens mail for the President's offices.

The White House was linked to the latest anthrax scare after news that spores of the bacteria had been detected at a centre that screens mail for the President's offices.

The spores were found on a "slitter" ­ a machine used to open mail ­ at Bolling Airforce Base outside Washington, which screens White House mail. Only a small number of spores were said to have been discovered ­ possibly not enough to lead to an infection.

A White House spokesman said no one had reported feeling ill and that it was confident extra security measures had prevented any spores entering the White House.

But President George Bush suggested that the risk had been taken seriously enough for him to be tested. "I don't have anthrax," he told reporters yesterday afternoon when he was asked if he had taken a test. "There is no doubt that the evildoers are still trying to harm Americans. There is no question that anyone who mails anthrax with an intention to harm Americans is a terrorist."

Mail handled by Bolling is first dealt with by the Postal Service's regional distribution centre at Brentwood ­ the depot at the centre of the anthrax scare. Confirmation was given yesterday that two Brentwood employees who died after complaining of anthrax-type symptoms had now been diagnosed as being infected with inhalational anthrax.

Yesterday, postal workers from 36 offices across Washington were told to take an anthrax test and to receive antibiotics. In addition to the two people who have died, at least another 16 cases of possible infection among postal service workers within the District of Columbia are being investigated. A mail handler from New Jersey is also believed to be suffering from the disease while two workers from Maryland are also being treated.

Anthony Williams, the Mayor of Washington, said: "We know that the two deaths that were reported to you and that you know about now are confirmed cases of inhalational anthrax."

There is growing criticism of the way the authorities have handled the anthrax threat in the city since the disclosure last week that a letter sent to Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority leader, had infected some 30 people. While Capitol employees were immediately tested, staff at the Brentwood mail facility were only tested this week.

"Everyone is learning on a day-to-day basis," said Dr Jeffrey Koplan, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the agency responsible for containing disease outbreaks.

Mr Williams added: "In retrospect, we should have done a number of things earlier. If we knew then what we know now, we would have acted earlier."

Dr Ivan Walks, the city's health director, said that, with anthrax detected in 14 out of 29 locations within the Brentwood facility, the issuing of antibiotics was being extended. About 10,000 postal workers are likely to receive them.

Tommy Thompson, the US Health Secretary, said officials would move more aggressively to test and treat potential victims if additional tainted mail was discovered.

Officials released copies yesterday of the infected letter that was sent to Mr Daschle along with copies of the letters sent to NBC's Tom Brokaw and the editor of the New York Post. All were dated 11 September.

The letters sent to the media outlets were virtually identical; one was postmarked 18 September and the other 9 October, but both were from Trenton, New Jersey. They read: "09-11-01. This is next. Take penacilin (sic) now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."