WASHINGTON — A New York woman died of inhalation anthrax Wednesday, the fourth person to perish in a spreading wave of bioterrorism. A co-worker underwent tests for a suspicious skin lesion, heightening concern the disease was spreading outside the mail system.
Despite an intensive four-week investigation by the FBI and health experts, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "I have no progress to report" in identifying the culprits or preventing further attacks.
"I think for the American people it’s frightening, it’s scary," conceded White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, as authorities also reported a new suspected case of skin anthrax involving a New Jersey postal worker, and closed the facility where he works.
Dr. Patrick Meehan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no new cases of the disease had been reported in Washington, D.C., for several days. Federal officials said some, but not all, local residents on medication could discontinue their antibiotics, a recommendation the city was studying.
Authorities expressed particular concern over the early morning death of Kathy Nguyen, a 61-year-old Vietnamese immigrant who lived alone in the Bronx and worked in a small Manhattan hospital. Doctors sedated her and put her on a ventilator after she checked into a hospital three days ago, and officials said she had been too sick to assist them in their investigation.
The woman worked in a basement supply room that had recently included a mailroom, but there were no reports of suspicious letters or other obvious cause for alarm — a sharp contrast to other cases in which tainted mail has been linked to the disease.
"So far all of the environmental tests at the hospital … all of the environmental tests taken at her home" have proven to be negative for anthrax, said New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He said a sample taken from her clothing had yielded "some indications" of the bacteria, and further tests were being completed.
In all, officials have tallied 17 cases of anthrax including the first confirmed diagnosis on Oct. 4. There have been 10 cases of the inhalation form of the disease — including all four deaths — and seven occurrences of the less dangerous skin type. Tens of thousands of other people, many of them postal service workers, are taking antibiotics.
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