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Expert gives feds a 'D' on anthrax response


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading health expert Tuesday gave the U.S. government a "D" on its response to the anthrax crisis.

Dr. Tara O'Toole explained the almost-failing grade by saying there were a lot of mistakes, miscommunications and misjudgments.

The deputy director of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, made her blunt assessment during a daylong conference among infectious disease and bioterrorism experts.

Her review sharply contrasts the assessment of public health officials who have said the government is doing everything it can to respond to the anthrax problem.

"I would give us as a government a 'D' on communication -- both within the government, and between the government and the public," said O'Toole. (Full story)

"There was a heroic effort on the part of the health departments," she said, "[but] I think there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of missed connections, a lot of misjudgments. I think what we see reflected is the total disengagement of the medical community from any bio-preparedness planning or exercises to date."

Anthrax by the numbers
17 total anthrax infections

  • 10 cases inhalation anthrax (4 dead)

  • 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

Source: CDC/CNN

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 The latest news

Latest developments:

• The FBI received unexpectedly sharp criticism on Capitol Hill for its handling of the anthrax sent in the U.S. mail. At a Senate hearing on the threat of bioterrorism, panel chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she was "surprised the FBI hasn't made more progress" in tracing sources of the bacteria. Tim Caruso, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said investigators did not know how many labs produce anthrax. (Full story)

• The first of thousands of pieces of mail from the Brentwood processing center in Washington will begin being delivered in the next couple of days after being irradiated at an offsite facility. The facility in Lima, Ohio, has been irradiating 750,000 pieces of mail daily, or about 28,000 pounds, since the anthrax-contaminated Brentwood center was closed October 21.

• In New Jersey, officials Tuesday reopened the West Trenton Post Office in Ewing Township where a female mail carrier who contracted cutaneous anthrax worked. The facility had been closed since the woman was diagnosed late last month.

• The U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday the anthrax mail attacks would cost the postal service well into the "billions of dollars" -- money it will seek to recoup from Congress. Postmaster General John Potter will seek a congressional rescue when he testifies before a Senate panel Thursday. (Full story)

• Anthrax has been discovered in a mailbag received by the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, Russia, but the amount detected was called "negligible." (Full story)

• Senate leaders Tuesday scrapped plans to fumigate the entire Hart Senate Office Building with chlorine dioxide gas and are examining alternative techniques to clean the anthrax-contaminated building, a Capitol Police spokesman said. Citing Environmental Protection Agency advisers, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "There are too many dangers inherent with using gas throughout the entire complex."

• In Islamabad, Pakistan, the U.S. Embassy confirmed Tuesday a letter received October 30 at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore contained a white powder that in preliminary tests came back positive for anthrax spores. The substance was sent to the United States for further testing. (Full story)

• The Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York reopened Tuesday. Kathy Nguyen, who was employed there, died October 31 of inhalation anthrax. The hospital closed a week ago after the 61-year-old woman was diagnosed. Investigators are trying to determine how the Bronx resident was exposed to anthrax. (Full story)

• Final tests results show no anthrax contamination at any buildings used by the Food and Drug Administration, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Preliminary tests of FDA mailrooms came back positive, but those turned out to be false, according to the spokeswoman. Tests of six buildings -- two downtown and four in Rockville, Maryland -- all came back clean.


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