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Bush, postal officials urge caution with mail

(CNN) -- Americans should be on the lookout for suspicious letters and packages amid growing concerns about anthrax exposure, President Bush warned Monday.

"The key thing for the American people is to be cautious about letters that come from somebody you may not know, unmarked letters, letters that look suspicious," Bush said after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office received a suspicious package that tested positive twice for the deadly bacteria anthrax in preliminary field tests.

At the same time, the U.S. Postal Service urged the public to stay calm.

"They should be concerned but definitely not panicked or alarmed," said Massachusetts postal official Bob Cannon, who notes that about 700 million pieces of mail go through the system each day.

Anthrax package sent to Daschle's office 
12 tips for handling suspicious mail 
 If you receive a suspicious package:
  • Handle with care; don't shake or bump
  • Isolate and look for indicators
  • Don't open, smell or taste
  • Treat it as a suspect; call 911

  • Source: FBI

    "Historically an extremely small percentage of those ever turn out to be hazardous, and even with the current sense of alert in the country, we feel that that still holds true."

    Nationwide, there have been two confirmed cases of anthrax: a photo editor with The Sun tabloid in Florida who died of inhalation anthrax and an NBC News employee in New York who handled a letter containing anthrax.

    Several other media outlets and businesses have reported receiving suspicious packages, but so far only the NBC letter and one in Nevada have been determined to contain the bacteria.

    Manuel Gonzalez-Latimer, a postal inspector in Miami, Florida, sought Monday to allay concerns among postal workers about possible exposure to anthrax.

    "There's no test that has been performed where a postal employee has been diagnosed with anthrax, which is something good, and that's something all our postal employees should keep in mind and the public in general," he said.

    Meanwhile, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reiterated that the public should be vigilant about checking their mail but not fearful.

    Bills or letters from acquaintances aren't necessarily cause for concern, but be wary of mail you don't ordinarily get, or from someone you don't know, Koplan said.

    "It's from a strange place. The handwriting doesn't look right. There are stains on it. You can feel something inside of it before you open it," Koplan said. "Put it down, cover it. Wash your hands. Call local law enforcement."

    Other possible tip-offs may include:

    -- No return address

    -- Packages of unusual weight or shape

    -- Packages marked "personal" or "confidential."

    -- A city or state in the postmark that doesn't match the return address

    If you receive a suspicious package, don't open it, isolate it, evacuate the area around it and call police or a postal inspector.


    • U.S. Postal Service
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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