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Anthrax diagnosed in two more people

Letter in senate majority leader's office tests positive

Ernesto Blanco, a mailroom employee at American Media Inc., was diagnosed Monday with inhalation anthrax.  

(CNN) -- Heightened fears of bioterrorism intensified Monday after two more people, including a 7-month-old baby boy, were diagnosed with anthrax, both apparently infected at major U.S.-based news organizations.

The baby of an ABC news producer was diagnosed with a case of cutaneous (skin) anthrax, ABC News President David Westin said Monday.

He is responding well to treatment and his prognosis is excellent, Westin said at an evening news conference.

Westin said the child was on two floors of the building on September 28. Authorities have not yet determined the source of the anthrax infection. Westin said it is possible that the child was infected elsewhere.

Given the earlier anthrax episode at NBC, however, "it just seems quite a coincidence" that someone infected with anthrax elsewhere would also have been in the ABC building, he said.

Therefore, he said, ABC News officials are operating on the assumption the infection took place in their offices.

No one else at ABC has reported any symptoms of the disease.

A second employee at American Media Inc., the tabloid publisher in Boca Raton, Florida, where anthrax was first discovered, has been diagnosed with the inhalation form of anthrax and is intensive care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Ernesto Blanco, a 73-year-old mailroom employee at the American Media building, tested positive for anthrax.

Officials previously believed Blanco was exposed to anthrax but not infected. Blanco has been hospitalized for more than two weeks on antibiotics at Cedars Medical Center in Miami and was moved to the intensive care unit late Monday.

"The overall picture of clinical symptoms combined with positive results from lab tests confirms anthrax," the CDC said in a statement.

Dr. Julie Gerberding of the CDC said the case was an "evolving clinical picture" and "not a classical presentation" of the disease.

"It was atypical for anthrax," she said.

Mari Orth, Blanco's stepdaughter, said hospital officials were moving Blanco to the ICU after "another procedure to remove liquid from his lungs."

"I don't know if this means he's getting worse," she said.

The latest cases bring the total number of confirmed cases of people who have contracted anthrax to four.

 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

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    Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at The Sun tabloid published by American Media, died earlier this month from anthrax. It was the first such death in the United States since 1976.

    An assistant to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw is being treated for the skin form of the disease, which is less serious than inhalation anthrax that killed Stevens. She is expected to be fine.

    In Washington, mail service was suspended at the U.S. Capitol after preliminary tests on a letter opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office Monday came back positive for anthrax.

    U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Dan Nichols said two field tests on the letter were positive.

    Investigators, however, could not be certain the letter contained anthrax until further analysis was completed at Fort Detrick, Maryland, home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID. Nichols said those tests would take about 24 hours.

    Nichols said a Capitol physician examined about 40 people who were in the office when the letter was opened. They were given antibiotics as a precaution and allowed to go home.

    Daschle, D-South Dakota, was not in his office in the Hart Senate Office Building at the time the letter was opened, and he said he was not taking antibiotics. Daschle has a leadership office in the Capitol itself where he spends most of his time.

    He said he was "very, very disappointed and angry" about the letter.

    In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Daschle said the Senate would be in session Tuesday.

    "The Senate and this institution will not stop, we will not cease our business, we will continue to work," Daschle said.

    FBI sources told CNN the letter was postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, the same postmark as a letter containing anthrax sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. Nichols would not confirm that report.

    Public tours of the Capitol have been suspended indefinitely.

    Experts say anthrax is treatable and not contagious among humans.

    Latest developments

    • The CDC said Monday that a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, tested negative for anthrax spores. Earlier tests had come back positive for anthrax, but health officials had already said the six people who handled the letter were not exposed.

    • President Bush would not rule out Osama bin Laden -- already branded as the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks against the United States -- as the culprit in the anthrax incidents.

    • "We have no hard data on that yet, but it's clear that Mr. bin Laden is a man who is an evil man," Bush said during a White House appearance where he talked about the Daschle letter. "He and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country, so we're watching every piece of evidence.

    • Health officials said they found minuscule amounts of anthrax in a corner of a U.S. Postal Service mail-sorting facility near the American Media offices in Boca Raton. The bacteria were found in a 5-by-5 foot mail-processing area in a remote, non-public part of the building, a postal official said.

    • Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday the recent anthrax cases and spate of suspicious letters in the United States "must be another attempt by terrorists to impact the situation and to destabilize the country and to start panic."

    • Law enforcement sources told CNN that an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Brokaw contained a short note with threatening language toward the United States and Israel.

    • Police and health officials were combing the offices of major news media outlets in New York -- CBS, CNN, Fox News, The Associated Press, The New York Post and the Daily News -- for possible anthrax. Offices of the New York Times and NBC News were checked last week.

    • Ninety offices of Planned Parenthood and at least 80 clinics of the National Abortion Federation across the United States have received envelopes containing unidentified powdery substances and letters with threatening language, according to spokesmen for the groups. Both groups support abortion rights and provide abortions in at least some of their offices.

    • The Immigration and Naturalization Service shut down mail processing at all of its offices Monday after suspicious packages were received at two INS facilities, the agency said. Three mailroom workers at a Burlington, Vermont, facility were taken to a hospital as a precaution after a powdery substance fell out of a small Fed-Ex package. Preliminary tests on the package and a letter received two days earlier were "inconclusive," the agency said. A hazardous materials team was called to a Providence, Rhode Island, facility to investigate a suspicious package from the United Arab Emirates.

    • The anthrax-contaminated letter sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw contained a short note with threatening language toward the United States and Israel, law enforcement sources told CNN on Monday. The note warned the recipient should begin taking medication immediately. It ended by praising Allah, the Arabic word for God.

    A Continental Airlines jet sits in a parking area at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio, after a flight attendant found a white, powdery substance onboard.  

    • Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said police were being flooded with reports of suspicious packages and urged New Yorkers to remain calm. In less than eight hours Monday morning and early afternoon, police received 82 calls of suspicious packages or powder, and 24 packages were taken for testing, he said. So far, anthrax has not been detected in any of the packages.

    • The United Nations plans to change its mail-handling procedures after receiving two suspicious packages last week, officials said Monday. The first package was thrown away after an employee opened and found a white powdery substance. The woman tested negative for anthrax exposure. A second package, believed to contain powder, arrived Thursday and was sent to U.S. officials for testing. It also tested negative for anthrax.

    • Richard Butler, the former U.N. weapons inspector, pointed Monday to a possible Iraqi connection to the recent anthrax mailings, saying he did not believe terrorist groups themselves could have made the sometimes fatal bacteria. In an interview with CNN, Butler cautioned there has been no verification that Iraq had any role in the recent attacks, but he said the country is known to have produced anthrax. (Full story)

    • Bush plans to recommend that Congress allocate more than $1.5 billion in additional funds for the Department of Health and Human Services efforts to fight bioterrorism, bringing the amount devoted to the fight to more than $1.8 billion, the department said Sunday. The money would be used to stockpile medications, speed development of smallpox vaccine and improve federal, state and local preparedness. (Full story)


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