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Anthrax found in Education Dept. mail room

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The main mail room of the U.S. Department of Education has tested positive for anthrax, officials said Wednesday, but only a "small amount" of the bacteria was found and there was no danger to employees.

The mail room has been closed and the ventilation system turned off, but the rest of the building remains open, the officials said.

Eighteen people have contracted anthrax in recent months and five of them have died. The latest victim was an elderly woman in Connecticut.

Leahy letter 'as lethal' as one sent to Daschle 
Anthrax by the numbers
18 total anthrax infections
  • 11 cases inhalation anthrax (5 dead)
  • 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

  • Source: CDC/CNN

    Anthrax attacks
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    Except for her case and the infection of another woman in New York, authorities have been able to tie the cases to tainted letters sent to government or news media offices.

    Officials said the latest bacteria findings in the Education Department are "similar" to anthrax found in other federal buildings, including Justice, Health and Human Services and several Capitol Hill offices.

    Most government mail in Washington once went through the Brentwood Road processing center, which remains closed. Two Brentwood employees died from inhalation anthrax and two others were hospitalized.

    Health officials have put thousands of federal workers on preventive antibiotics.

    The announcement about the Education building comes one day after officials announced traces of the bacteria were found in two offices of the Russell Senate Office Building.

    The anthrax was found in the offices of Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut.

    Investigators believe these traces -- the first time the substance has been found in the Russell building -- were the result of cross contamination with a tainted letter, possibly the one addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who also has an office in the building.

    FBI sources said Wednesday that roughly 23,000 anthrax spores were found in the plastic evidence bag in which the letter to Leahy was placed. As few as 8,000 spores could infect someone with inhalation anthrax, according to scientists.

    One official said the Leahy letter -- which has not yet been opened and is being analyzed at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland -- was "as lethal" as one sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle last month.

    The Leahy letter was discovered in a barrel of quarantined mail seized after the Daschle letter was opened.

    U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told CNN Tuesday the FBI is making progress in finding the person sending the anthrax through the mail.

    "We certainly have some better leads than we had a few days ago when the FBI first put out its profile," Ashcroft said Tuesday. "And we will have to wait and see and measure the extent to which these leads turn out to be either productive or nonproductive."

    FBI profilers believe the suspect is a probably a male loner who might work in a laboratory. -- CNN Producer Bill Mears contributed to this report.




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