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CBS anchor Rather calls anthrax 'psychological warfare'

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Anthrax reached a third television network Thursday as an assistant to CBS News anchor Dan Rather tested positive for the skin form of the disease.

The employee, a young woman, was responding well to antibiotics and was expected to make a full recovery.

"She feels fine," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said in a written statement, emphasizing that the disease is not contagious.

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Rather, at a news conference with Heyward, praised the woman as "heroic" and vowed that the network would not be bowed by what he described as "psychological warfare."

"Our biggest problem today is not anthrax. Our biggest problem is fear," Rather said.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani sought to calm the public, saying there is no indication that anyone else within CBS is sick with anthrax. Citing an "excess of caution," he said further environmental tests are under way at the CBS headquarters in Manhattan to check for possible contamination.

Scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention entered the building Thursday morning, although earlier tests did not reveal any signs of anthrax spores in the building.

But the development at CBS means that three of the nation's major networks have apparently been targeted. Authorities say they do not know if the spate of anthrax-laced letters is connected to last month's terrorist attacks, but they are suspicious.

Giuliani said no letter has been found at CBS, so it's not clear how the woman contracted anthrax. "She has no memory of any mail ... that raised any suspicions whatsoever," Rather said.

But the mayor said that based on the other incidents, it could be inferred that the CBS case was also the result of a tainted letter.

An assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw contracted skin anthrax after opening what was described as a threatening letter. Also, an ABC News producer's baby has been diagnosed with skin anthrax, but no letter has been found in connection with that case.

Giuliani said that additional environmental samples at those two networks have all come back negative, meaning there is no evidence of further anthrax contamination.

In Florida, a photo editor who worked at a tabloid published by American Media Inc., died of inhalation anthrax, and another employee of that company remains hospitalized and is being treated for the same ailment. A third employee at that company has tested positive for exposure to anthrax.

In the CBS case, the woman noticed what appeared to be a bug bite with some mild swelling on her face earlier this month. Her doctor initially treated it as an infected bug bite, but after the anthrax incidents became public, she went for a biopsy, Rather said.

She had initially been on penicillin, but was given a prescription of Cipro when the anthrax diagnosis was confirmed.

"We don't believe that there is any public health concern in the building or even on that floor," said Neil Cohen, commissioner with the New York City Health Department. "And while certain portions of the location where she works will be cordoned off in the course of this criminal investigation, we see no public health concern for CBS employees or anyone who would be coming into the building."



 
 
 
 



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