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Anthrax testing in N.J. expands to bulk mail customers

Postal worker
A postal employee places a plastic bag over a mail box Monday in Hamilton County, New Jersey.  

(CNN) -- New Jersey postal officials Tuesday night urged workers and bulk mail customers who recently entered the Hamilton Township mail processing center or the West Trenton post office to begin a 10-day course of antibiotics immediately.

Officials said 32 of 80 environmental samples from the Hamilton Township facility tested positive for anthrax. All 19 environmental tests at the West Trenton station were negative.

More than 1,100 employees who worked at the facilities have already begun treatment with antibiotics.

Business mailers who entered work areas in the facilities between September 18 and October 19 should report to their doctor or a hospital to receive antibiotic treatment, said Vito Cetta, district manager for the U.S. Postal Service in central New Jersey.

It was during that period that three anthrax-laced letters to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and the editor of the New York Post were postmarked in Trenton.

Because no anthrax was found in public areas of either New Jersey facility, Cetta said regular postal customers are not being advised to seek treatment.

Two Trenton-area postal workers have been diagnosed with cutaneous (skin) anthrax and another is suspected of having inhalation anthrax, a more serious form of the disease. She is in serious but stable condition, Cetta said. In addition, an illness in a fourth worker is being looked at as a possible anthrax case, he said. (Full story)

Postal union officials have said they are angry that it had taken so long to start testing workers.

Latest developments

Click here to see copies of the letters released Tuesday by the Justice Department 
 Total number of anthrax cases:
12 infections (6 cutaneous; 6 inhaled)

32 exposures

3 deaths (2 DC postal workers; 1 Florida AMI employee)

source: CDC

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Attack on America
 The latest news

• A machine at a remote mail site that handles mail for the White House tested positive for anthrax, press secretary Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. He said environmental sampling found no anthrax at the White House. (Full story)

"I don't have anthrax," President Bush said during a meeting with congressional leaders when asked if he had been tested or was taking antibiotics. "I'm confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe." Bush said he would not be surprised if al Qaeda is involved in anthrax incidents.

• White House mail screened at the remote location comes from the Brentwood mail center where two workers who died this week from inhalation anthrax were employed. Another two postal workers from Brentwood remain hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. (Full story)

• Anthrax-laced letters sent to Brokaw and the New York Post contained an identical message and similar handwriting, copies of the letters released Tuesday by the Justice Department show, and both were postmarked September 18. A third anthrax-tainted letter sent to Daschle contained a similar message and handwriting, but it was not identical, and it was postmarked October 8.

All three letters bore the date "09-11-01" -- the date of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. The block handwriting on all three letters appears similar. The letters to the Post and Brokaw did not contain a return address; the letter to Daschle had a Franklin Park, New Jersey, grade school as an address. All three were mailed in Trenton, New Jersey. Franklin Park is between Trenton and Camden. (Click here to see letters)

• Another letter addressed to Daschle raised suspicions Tuesday after it attracted a worker's attention at a suburban Maryland postal processing facility, according the FBI. A spokesman said the letter "has some similarities but some differences" to the original letter sent to Daschle earlier this month that contained anthrax.

• Postal authorities said Tuesday that flags at all facilities will fly at half-staff until funerals are held for the two postal workers who died from anthrax.

• Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that scientists would "immediately" check any postal facility through which an anthrax-tainted letter or package had been processed. Testing and treating of postal workers also will be a part of the rapid response.

• Tests show the U.S. Capitol building is free from anthrax, Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said Tuesday. The Russell Senate Office Building will open Wednesday morning, and the Dirksen Senate Office Building -- where anthrax was found in the mailroom -- will be opened "as soon as we can either seal the mailroom or remediate that area," Nichols said. House office buildings will remain closed Wednesday until test data is analyzed. (Full story)

• Researchers have learned how anthrax toxins enter cells and what part of the bacteria is the killer, findings which will give experts better targets for drugs and vaccines, according to two articles in the scientific journal Nature published Tuesday. (Full story)

• The federal government is hoping to buy Cipro, the antibiotic most effective against anthrax, at less than $1 a pill, Thompson said Tuesday. The limited supply and high cost of Cipro, the Germany-based Bayer AG's name for its patented version of ciprofloxacin, has led to suggestions that Congress allow other companies to make cheaper, generic versions of the drug. (Full story)

• New York postal authorities plan to offer Cipro to postal workers in at least six Manhattan facilities that might have handled anthrax-laced mail, local postal union officials said Tuesday. The plan results from a meeting of postal authorities, angry postal union leaders and a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Full story)

• The chief postal inspector said Tuesday he has assigned virtually all postal inspectors and postal police officers to the anthrax mail investigation. Kenneth Weaver also said public confidence in the mail system is essential to the survival of the Postal Service and the economy. (Full story)

• White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday the Postal Service will now vacuum scanning machines to collect dust. Post office facilities had previously used compressed air to blow out the material.

• House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, said Tuesday he believes there is a link between the anthrax cases in the United States and the September 11 terrorist attacks. (Full story)

• Some postal workers have said the federal government did not act quickly enough to protect mail carriers and their workplace after an anthrax-contaminated letter their facility processed reached a Senate office last week. (Full story)

• A letter sent to a Kenyan citizen from Atlanta, Georgia, which originally tested positive for anthrax spores, has retested negative, investigators said Tuesday. "It is believed that the tests were conducted on a mildew or fungus," according to a joint news release from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, explaining the recipient told authorities "the letter arrived late and was damp."


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