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N.Y. lists anthrax victim's death as homicide

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An estimated "few thousand" patients, employees and visitors at this Manhattan hospital are being offered antibiotics  


NEW YORK (CNN) -- The city's medical examiner's office Wednesday listed the death of Kathy Nguyen, the first person to in New York to die from inhalation anthrax, as a homicide.

"Spores were delivered with criminal intent," said Ellen Borakove in the city's medical examiner's office.

The cause of death was confirmed to be inhalation anthrax after an autopsy was completed at noon Wednesday, she said.

Nguyen, 61, worked in a basement supply room of Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, or MEET. She died early Wednesday morning.

"So far we have not been able to trace this back to any specific thing that put her in contact with anthrax," said New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. "We have two teams out there, criminal and clinical."

Nguyen might have had spores on her clothing when she checked into the hospital on Sunday night, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Wednesday.

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Items of clothing tested were a pair of jeans, a shirt, a sweater and sneakers.

Neal Cohen, the city's health commissioner, said two preliminary tests from specimens taken from the clothing were not definitive and "further testing has to be done."

Giuliani said one hospital employee who was among several tested as a group "complained of having a lesion." A biopsy was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.

"At this point, people should not jump to conclusions about a second case," Giuliani said.

Giuliani called on the New York Police Department and the FBI to re-create Nguyen's steps of the past two weeks to track down "where could she possibly have contracted inhalation anthrax."

"There is no quick, easy thing to attribute it to," said the mayor.

Environmental samples taken at Nguyen's workplace and home have tested negative for anthrax, and no contaminated letter has been linked to the case, officials said.

Antibiotics are being offered to everyone who has been inside the building for more than an hour since October 11, including employees, patients and visitors.

Gladys George, president and CEO of Lenox Hill Hospital, the parent company of MEET, said in a statement Wednesday that 1,116 people have been counseled and given antibiotics. She said 256 of those work at MEET and 95 work at Lenox Hill.

Distribution of antibiotics began at the Lenox Hill Hospital auditorium Tuesday afternoon and continued Wednesday.

"We will stay until everyone has been seen and treated," George said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said at a briefing on Wednesday the FBI has stepped up its investigation into anthrax outbreaks across the country.

"In the case of Ms. Nguyen, they are following all her travels. They are trying to determine if she traveled anywhere domestically or foreign, who she may have come into contact with, any of the people that she's associated with to determine if they have any information about how she could have contracted the anthrax," Fleischer said.

One neighbor told CNN that Nguyen had "not been out of New York in five years" and that her last trip abroad was to Jerusalem in 1996.

The same neighbor said Nguyen had a conversation with her about anthrax last Wednesday. Nguyen suggested to her that "it's a good idea to wash your hands after checking the mail," she said.

Nguyen complained of chills and headache at work Thursday. She came to work Friday but co-workers said she seemed very ill.

By Sunday night the illness had progressed, and she checked herself into the hospital around 11 p.m. At that time the case was reported to the mayor's office.

The storage area where Nguyen worked shared space for a time with the mailroom, but her co-workers said she never handled mail.

Forty environmental samples from MEET tested negative for anthrax contamination. Thirty samples from the Nguyen's home in the Bronx also showed no signs of the bacteria.



 
 
 
 


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• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
• Office of the New York Mayor
• U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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• Federal Bureau of Investigation

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