WASHINGTON -- A State Department mail handler who works far from previous anthrax-infected sites was hospitalized with the inhaled form of the disease, and a co-worker was being watched for infection. The Postal Service began checking hundreds more offices nationwide for anthrax spores and prepared new protections for customers.
Also, the Central Intelligence Agency said Friday that it discovered a trace amount of anthrax in the mail-handling building at its McLean, Va., headquarters. A spokesman described the anthrax as "medically insignificant" but said the building was closed for additional tests.
"It's not enough to cause inhalation anthrax," said spokesman Bill Harlow. He said several agency employees who handle mail are taking antibiotics as a precaution.
Three weeks into the anthrax-by-mail scare, investigators continued their search for a sender but reported no progress. Health officials braced for another tainted letter to surface.
"We would be naive to think this is over yet," said Dr. Julie Gerberding of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just one anthrax-laced letter has been discovered in Washington -- that addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle earlier this month. But evidence of anthrax has now turned up in several places where that letter never traveled: mail rooms serving the House, the White House, at a distant Virginia location that processes State Department mail and at the CIA.
Two other anthrax letters have been opened in New York City, and evidence of anthrax has been found in Florida too.
The circle of infection widened with the diagnosis of the State Department mail supervisor, who worked more than 20 miles from Brentwood, Washington's central mail processing facility. Until Thursday, all those infected in the nation's capital had been tied to this central plant, which handles mail for federal agencies.
The 59-year-old man, hospitalized in guarded condition with inhaled anthrax, worked in Sterling, Va., where about 90 percent of the State Department's mail is processed, some of which comes from Brentwood.
Doctors asked him if his job ever took him to Brentwood. "His answer was 'never,"' reported Dr. Ivan Walks, Washington's chief health officer.
Authorities said it's possible that the Daschle letter contaminated other mail, which then infected this man, or, more ominously, another anthrax-filled letter may be somewhere in the postal system, yet to be discovered.
Health authorities were monitoring a male co-worker from the same facility, who was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms that are consistent with the disease, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Their workplace was being tested for anthrax exposure Friday, as were 250 to 300 workers, with about 80 of them immediately given preventative antibiotics. Another half dozen State Department locations also were to be tested, including two inside the Foggy Bottom headquarters.
Also, a test for anthrax in a mailroom in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., came back positive Thursday. The institute, which doesn't care for patients, is three miles from the hospital at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Trying to get ahead of the spiraling threat, the Postal Service began anthrax testing at hundreds of facilities along the East Coast and at every government mailroom, and did spot checks nationwide. Washington health officials asked virtually everyone involved with mail handling to report for antibiotics, and thousands of New York postal workers were prescribed the drugs too, even though further evidence of anthrax has not been found there.
And attempting to reassure anxious customers, the Postal Service was purchasing new irradiation equipment to kill any germs in the mail in selected areas. The equipment, similar to that used in food processing, uses electron beams and X-rays to kill bacteria.
The number of confirmed infections reached 13, all linked to the media or the mail, all in Florida, New York, New Jersey or metropolitan Washington.
Among those with inhalation anthrax, three had died, three were hospitalized and one had recovered. Another six people have been diagnosed with the highly treatable skin form of the disease.
Despite the disturbing anthrax news, officials urged calm. Many lawmakers were returning to their Capitol Hill offices, shuttered for the past week, while others were still shut out as anthrax decontamination continued.
"We are here to conduct the nation's business. We will not be frightened," Secretary of State Colin Powell said as he appeared before a Senate committee.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the anthrax in the Daschle letter was highly concentrated with very small, light spores that were easier to absorb into the respiratory system, making them more lethal.
"It is clear that the terrorists responsible for these attacks intended to use this anthrax as a weapon," Ridge said. He added: "We still don't know who is responsible."
The good news, he said, is that this strain of anthrax -- known as the Ames strain -- responds to all major antibiotics.
Those drugs were at work for three Washington area patients who work with the mail, all diagnosed with inhalation anthrax, and one postal worker in New Jersey, who is being watching for a disease last seen in the United States a quarter century ago.
Anxiety filled many postal workers stunned by daily developments in the unprecedented case of bioterrorism.
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