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Two D.C.-area mail facilities closed for testing

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 2,000 postal employees at two mail facilities were to be treated and tested for possible anthrax exposure Sunday after a postal worker was diagnosed earlier in the day with potentially deadly inhalation anthrax.

The worker, whose name officials withheld at his family's request, was hospitalized Friday at Inova Fairfax hospital in northern Virginia with flu-like symptoms, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said Sunday. A hospital spokeswoman said he was in serious but stable condition Sunday.

It was the third case of inhalation anthrax confirmed in the United States since October 1. Of those, one man has died. There also have been nine cases of cutaneous (skin) anthrax and 32 exposures to the deadly bacteria.

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Dr. Ivan Walks, director of the Washington Health Department, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Brentwood mail facility near Capitol Hill -- which processes almost all mail to the District of Columbia -- and an air mail center in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, near Baltimore-Washington International Airport be shut down for environmental testing.

The infected postal worker moved between the two facilities, Walks said.

An auxiliary center was being set up so mail delivery would not be disrupted, said Deborah Willhite, a postal executive.

Postal employees would be meeting with health professionals briefly before being given a 10-day supply of the antibiotic Cipro as a precautionary measure, Williams said.

Based on further testing, workers may get the entire 60-day course of treatment, officials said.

Staff exposed

Twenty-eight Capitol Hill workers were exposed to anthrax in the Hart Senate Office Building last week after a letter laced with the bacteria was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota. That letter originated in Trenton, New Jersey, and passed through the Brentwood mail facility, where more than 1,000 people work.

The 28 workers did not contract the disease and are in good health, Dr. John Eisold, a Capitol physician, said Saturday.

In the past month, two employees of American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, were diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. Photo editor Robert Stevens, 63, died October 5. Ernesto Blanco, 73, is receiving treatment at Cedars Medical Center in Miami, Florida. Blanco's stepdaughter said Sunday he is "doing a lot better" after he was moved out of the intensive care unit Thursday.

Reopening for business

Four sites in the Capitol Hill area have tested positive for the presence of anthrax bacteria: the Dirksen Senate Office Building's mailroom, the Hart Senate Office Building -- where Daschle's office is located -- the Ford House Office Building mailroom and the offsite mail facility, about 15 blocks from Capitol Hill.

About 400 Capitol Hill workers are taking Cipro, Eisold said adding that more people will be put on treatment as results come back.

Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols told reporters Sunday that the Capitol building would reopen Monday, but Congressional office building would remain closed.

Investigators had tested the Hart Senate Office Building, the tunnel system on the Senate side of the Capitol complex, the Dirksen and Russell Senate Office Buildings, areas of the Longworth House Office Building and areas in the Capitol building on Saturday night.

They conducted further tests on the offsite mail facility, 15 blocks from Capitol Hill. The results from those tests are expected Monday, Nichols said.

The Senate was in session Thursday, but the House was not after House leaders decided to recess until Tuesday. Neither chamber of Congress was scheduled for session on Friday or Monday.

Officials are trying to get the Russell building cleared for business first, because it is the lone Senate office building where no traces of anthrax have turned up.

The Longworth building on the House side is an area of particular focus, because the mail machine in the Ford building that tested positive for anthrax Saturday was bundling mail addressed for the Longworth building, police said.

--CNN Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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