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Officials grapple over scope of anthrax exposures

Funeral services were held today for D.C. postal worker Joseph P. Curseen Jr. who died of anthrax  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After burying one Washington-area postal worker and revisiting the recent death of one based in New York, law enforcement and health officials on Saturday continued to grapple with the full scope of recent anthrax discoveries, exposures and infections.

Hundreds of people, including Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams, turned out Saturday to mourn Joseph Curseen Jr., a 15-year veteran of the postal service and one of two D.C.-area postal workers to die from inhalation anthrax. (Full story)

Besides Curseen, 47, and Thomas Morris, 55, who was buried Friday, two other D.C.-area postal workers and a State Department mail facility employee have also contracted the inhaled form of anthrax. A Florida tabloid photo editor, Robert Stevens, died from this ailment earlier this month, and his colleague, Ernesto Blanco, was released from this hospital this week after extensive treatment.

Several hundred miles away, two New Jersey postal workers with suspected cases of inhalation anthrax appeared to be improving on Saturday, according to state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz. (Full story)

Many of the sicknesses and deaths have been linked to anthrax-tainted letters sent from Trenton, New Jersey, to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.

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Anthrax by the numbers
13 total anthrax infections

  • 3 deaths from inhalation infections

  • 4 cases inhalation infections

  • 6 cases cutaneous anthrax

32 total anthrax exposures

Source: CDC/CNN

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Attack on America
 The latest news

Latest developments

• Washington health officials have switched to doxycycline as the antibiotic of choice for combating anthrax infection. Authorities initially prescribed ciprofloxacin, manufactured under the name Cipro. CDC sources say they want to achieve a better balance in the types of antibiotics used. Using a single antibiotic for extended periods of time can increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance. Also, doxycycline is cheaper than Cipro and more plentiful. (Full story)

• U.S. officials say that the Daschle letter likely contaminated some Washington-area mail facilities, although the discovery of anthrax spores at the State Department led investigators to a new "working hypothesis," sources tell CNN.

"We are exploring cross-contamination or another piece of mail," Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said.

Cross-contamination alone could not be making people as sick as they are, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sources said, and the State Department employee did not visit Daschle's office or Washington's main mail-processing facility, Brentwood.

• Investigators have not ruled out any possible source of anthrax, a Bush administration official said Saturday. The comments came in response to a Washington Post report saying that U.S. officials now believe the anthrax attacks came from a domestic source and were not connected to the al Qaeda terrorist network. (Full story)

• The New York Medical Examiner's office decided to re-evaluate the death of a postal worker earlier this month as a "precautionary measure," looking to see if it was anthrax-related.

Anthrax cultures were discovered in four mail-sorting machines inside Manhattan's largest mail-distribution center. The worker, Laura Jones, died on October 10 of what was then deemed natural causes.

• Mailroom workers in "several thousand" Washington businesses have been asked to come in for tests to determine if they have been exposed to the anthrax bacteria, Washington's chief health officer, Dr. Ivan Walks, told CNN Saturday. Walks said that more than 10,000 people been tested, and the number "will get profoundly larger."

• An attorney for the New York Metro Postal Union formally notified the country's top postal official Friday that the U.S. Postal Service is to be sued unless it closes a Manhattan mailing facility where anthrax was found. The attorney also filed notices with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. attorney general and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (Full story)

• The main post office in Princeton, New Jersey, was closed Friday night after one colony of anthrax -- deemed clinically insignificant -- grew from a swab taken on a mail container called a flat tub. The tub was likely contaminated at the Hamilton mail-processing facility near Trenton, from which the container came and through which the Daschle, Brokaw and New York Post letters passed.

• In Washington, the Brentwood mail facility remained closed Saturday and a second facility, Southwest Post Office on L Street, was closed Friday after anthrax spores were found on a mail bin.

• On Capitol Hill, investigators found three anthrax hot spots in the Longworth House Office Building, government sources told CNN Friday. One source described the findings as "small trace amounts" while another called the results "definitive." The bacteria were found along the mail delivery route in the building. (Full story)


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