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CDC testing other possible cases of anthrax

'We are not experiencing a national outbreak'

CBS News anchor Dan Rather: "Our biggest problem today is not anthrax. Our biggest problem is fear."  

(CNN) -- In addition to the six cases of anthrax it has confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday it has identified "less than five" other possible cases of anthrax.

The cases involve individuals who have reported "skin lesions or exposure circumstances that are under active investigation," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of infection control for CDC.

They are "in large part" linked to the two cases in Florida or the three in New York City, she said. A sixth case -- involving a postal worker in New Jersey -- was confirmed later Thursday.

"We are not experiencing a national outbreak," Gerberding said, noting that the number of confirmed cases has been "limited to a few exposures. Most people have nothing to be concerned about."

The latest confirmed anthrax infection involves a Hamilton Township postal worker who tested positive for skin, or cutaneous, anthrax, acting New Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said Thursday. A second employee is a possible case, DiFrancesco said. (Full story)

The other confirmed infection announced Thursday is a woman who works in CBS News anchor Dan Rather's office. She tested positive for cutaneous anthrax and is receiving antibiotics. (Full story)

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 The latest news

Anthrax threat shut down the U.S. House of Representative, but the U.S. Senate stayed open for business. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (October 18)

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The U.S. government sought to reassure the public by saying its stockpile of drugs is adequate and growing. CNNfn's Peter Viles reports (October 18)

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Potent anthrax not stuff of amateurs
• In Depth: The anthrax investigation
Testing for anthrax
Number of cases
Senate offices closed 
FBI: Daschle, Brokaw letters
Skin anthrax less dangerous 
 If you receive a suspicious package:
  • Handle with care; don't shake or bump
  • Isolate and look for indicators
  • Don't open, smell or taste
  • Treat it as suspect; call 911

  • Source: FBI

    The other cases involve an NBC employee and the infant of an ABC producer, each of whom tested positive for the same form of the disease. Cutaneous anthrax is the more common and least severe form of the infection.

    Two men in Florida contracted the inhaled form of anthrax, and one died.

    Latest developments

    • A senior law enforcement official told CNN Thursday that scientists and investigators believe the anthrax found in three areas -- New York, Washington and Florida -- came from the same source. In all three cases, the anthrax particles were finely ground, making them easier to travel in the air and be inhaled. Investigators have determined the anthrax in each case occurred naturally and was not biologically engineered, according to sources. Tests continue, but the similarities could help authorities narrow their focus and identify the culprit or culprits responsible for the tainted letters.

    • Federal law enforcement investigators are conducting fingerprint and DNA analysis on envelopes sent to NBC and to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Handwriting analysis is proving more difficult, sources said, because the writer used block letters, the most difficult type of writing to analyze. Investigators are also checking the still-quarantined American Media Inc. in Florida to determine if any mail there may be similar to the New York and Washington letters. Investigators also are examining security videotape from various New Jersey mail facilities.

    • The U.S. embassy in Tokyo on Thursday became the third U.S. diplomatic post to receive a letter containing an unknown substance, the State Department said. The consulate general in Osaka, Japan, and the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Spain, have also received suspicious letters.

    • Vermont health officials recommended Thursday that all people associated with Northwest Airlines Flight 5908 that landed in Burlington late Monday begin a regimen of preventative antibiotics because of a powdery substance found on the plane. Health Commissioner Jan Carney said tests on the substance showed "a rod-shaped bacteria of the same genus as the bacteria that causes anthrax."

    • Hundreds of anthrax hoaxes are straining what FBI Director Robert Mueller described Thursday as "an already overburdened enforcement system." Mueller said his agency has investigated 3,300 chemical or biological threats in the last 18 days. Of those cases, 2,500 involved anthrax threats.

    • Attorney General John Ashcroft said four suspects face serious consequences if convicted on charges of making terrorist threats as a hoax or lying to authorities about a threat. The most serious sentence could mean life in prison. He also said investigations of threats and hoaxes are under way in the Midwest and Southeast.

    • The FBI announced Thursday it is joining with the U.S. Postal Service to offer the $1 million reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for sending anthrax bacteria through the mail.

    • Thousands of New Yorkers, shaken by last month's terrorist attacks and further rattled by a series of anthrax incidents, are flooding emergency rooms and phoning health authorities, taxing the city's health system, officials said Thursday.

    • In Nairobi, Kenya, the country's health minister said Thursday an envelope sent from Atlanta to a Kenya citizen tested positive for anthrax spores. Authorities are investigating two other envelopes containing white powder, including one sent to a U.N. office in Nairobi. (Full story)

    • Deputy Surgeon General Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu said nasal swabs were positive for 31 people on Capitol Hill, indicating exposure to anthrax. Five are Capitol Hill police officers, three staff members in the office of Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and the rest from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office. Feingold's office is behind Daschle's in the Hart Senate Office Building.

    • Most of the Capitol complex remained closed for a second day Thursday to allow authorities to check for anthrax. House office buildings are closed until Tuesday for an environmental sweep of the building. The Senate's chamber remains open for business, but its three adjacent office buildings are closed until Monday. (Full story)

    • The German pharmaceutical company Bayer Corp. said Thursday it may ask its rivals to help it produce the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin to make sure there is enough of the drug to treat anthrax. (Full story)


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