Victim No. 17, and no clues

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Officials confirmed the nation’s 17th case of anthrax on Friday, and the Bush administration, its bioterrorism probe stymied, issued a fresh appeal to the public to help identify the culprits behind the attack.

Just shy of one month since the first diagnosis, authorities said they had detected anthrax in the work mailbox of a New Jersey woman who had been sickened with the skin form of the disease.

"It’s a good sign," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, noting the discovery eased concerns she had been infected some other undiscovered way.

Thompson and other officials indicated they expect to find additional spiked letters and more anthrax diagnoses. "One would have to say there are probably going to be more cases," said Dr. D.A. Henderson, an authority on infectious diseases.

Supreme Court justices returned to their decontaminated court Friday, while officials at the Treasury Department earmarked a suspicious letter for testing. It bore the same Trenton, N.J., postmark as other anthrax-laden letters and the address was handwritten, government officials said.

"We have no indication that it is dangerous in any way, but we’re having it tested," said Michele Davis, spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which reopened its mailroom Tuesday after having it decontaminated.

With investigators struggling, the Postal Service disclosed it had stopped retail sales of the type of prestamped envelope that carried anthrax-tainted mail to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the New York Post and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.

The newest case of anthrax was reported in New York, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a New York Post employee’s preliminary diagnosis of skin anthrax had been confirmed.

The 17 cases nationwide included 10 victims of the inhalation type of the disease, including four deaths, and seven occurrences of the skin variety. So far all have been linked to the mail, with the exception of the death of Kathy Nguyen, a New York woman who worked at a small hospital in Manhattan.

New York City officials have confirmed three additional cases, including a diagnosis of skin anthrax Friday in Mark Cunningham, an editorial page employee at the New York Post. He is the third worker at the paper reported afflicted with the disease. Those three cases are not counted by the CDC, which uses stricter criteria.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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