Herald news services
WASHINGTON — An anthrax victim was released from the hospital Monday, while investigators expanded their search for anthrax spores in government buildings.
Anthrax was detected inside the Pentagon and promptly removed, officials said Monday, but cleanup in the Senate office building where an anthrax-packed letter was opened proved more complicated.
To date, the biological attack has killed four people and infected 13 others. Though concentrated along the East Coast, anthrax also has been found in Kansas City, Mo., and Indianapolis.
"Even though we have been confronted with a deadly disease, there is hope," said Norma Wallace, 56, a postal worker in Hamilton, N.J., who was released from the hospital Monday after more than two weeks of treatment for inhalation anthrax.
"We have the greatest scientists, the greatest physicians," Wallace said Monday. "We don’t have to stand back in fear."
Wallace said she believes she probably contracted anthrax when a co-worker shot compressed air into a jammed mail-processing machine and sent dust flying. She said it was Oct. 9 — the same day the anthrax-filled letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was postmarked in New Jersey — when the machine jammed twice.
Three patients are still hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. One of them, a mail handler at the State Department, came out of an intensive care unit and "has been improving steadily," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
A postal facility in yet another government building tested positive for exposure, this time inside the Pentagon. Anthrax spores were found in two mailboxes at a post office in the building. The entire office was decontaminated over the weekend and further tests found no anthrax, officials said.
The U.S. Postal Service is testing 267 facilities across America. All State Department mailrooms in and outside the country are being cleaned, and tests are being conducted on dozens of suspicious powders and white substances sent to U.S. diplomatic offices worldwide, including in Pakistan, Panama, Abidjan and Montevideo.
Boucher said a preliminary test from a local laboratory in Lahore, Pakistan, came back positive — and needing more tests.
Thousands of environmental samples, including scores from federal offices, are being evaluated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, turning the anthrax scare into an almost nationwide waiting game.
Investigators continued to chase leads that could explain how New York hospital worker Kathy Nguyen, who had no apparent connection with the mail, contracted inhalation anthrax. Among them: that she might have had a second job at a restaurant. Nguyen died Wednesday and was buried Monday.
Dr. Bradley Perkins, an anthrax expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said tests on Nguyen’s clothes that initially suggested anthrax are now in doubt.
Researchers are beginning to investigate whether age or health factors, including smoking, increase vulnerability to the most dangerous form of anthrax.
Age could be a factor in lowering one’s immunity to infections. Researchers at the CDC say the 10 people who have acquired inhalation anthrax — the most serious form of the disease — during the current outbreak have a median age of 56. The youngest victim is 47.
Cigarette smoke, say researchers, can carry bacterial spores and other germs deep into the lungs, where they can germinate and cause infections.
Only one of the 10 inhalational victims is a smoker, and several are former smokers, Perkins said.