Nerves were on edge across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas despite pleas for calm from health authorities as anthrax jitters gripped the globe.
In the third incident involving anthrax in the mail outside the United States, an envelope containing a white powder in the Bahamas tested positive for anthrax spores over the weekend, according to Bahamian health authorities.
Ten people who came in contact with the letter were being treated for possible exposure to anthrax, Bahamian authorities revealed today. The envelope, which was addressed to an undisclosed Bahamian address, aroused suspicions last week, when mail workers in the postal office in the capital of Nassau noticed that the envelope was leaking white powder.
Preliminary tests on the envelope came up positive for anthrax, said Bahamian Chief Medical Officer Merceline Dahl-Regisdone, but authorities were awaiting results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the lab findings.
Third Case Overseas
The discovery of anthrax spores in Nassau followed similar cases of the presence of anthrax spores in the mail in Kenya and Argentina last week.
Last Thursday, a Kenyan national became the first confirmed anthrax exposure outside the United States after receiving a piece of suspicious mail.
A day later, a reporter for The New York Times in the paper's Rio de Janeiro bureau received an envelope that tested positive for anthrax.
Four Times employees at the bureau were being treated with Cipro as a preventive measure, the Times disclosed, and further tests on the letter were still being conducted, according to Brazilian authorities.
Hoaxes Outnumber Confirmed Cases
The new cases only added to global jitters as panic calls, security alerts and hoaxes vastly outnumbered the confirmed cases of anthrax exposure.
In the Polish capital of Warsaw today, security personnel cordoned off a room in Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller's offices after security staff discovered a package containing an unidentified powder. A spokesman for Miller said tests on the package were being conducted.
Poland's was the latest in a series of scares that put security at embassies, postal offices and government premises around the world on heightened alert.
Anthrax scares disrupted services at the French and Indian embassies in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo a few days after similar scares gripped the U.S. and Australian embassies last week.
With 18 years of civil war between the country's majority Sinhalese population and Tamil separatists led by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a terrorist organization notorious for its suicide bombers and its recent attack on the Colombo airport, the diplomatic community in Sri Lanka is on high alert.
In Malaysia, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur were given antibiotics after a suspicious letter was found on the premises. A family of four was placed under quarantine last week, when a family member opened a suspicious letter from the United States and Malaysian postal workers have been provided gas masks and gloves to handle mail.
Mail services in Finland, Denmark and Sweden were disrupted following a series of hoaxes at postal sorting centers today.
Governments across the world have been struggling to maintain a balance between providing adequate knowledge and a need to control public concerns.
In a bid to control scaremongers, British parliamentarians are rushing in new legislation under which people carrying out hoaxes involving bio-chemical, radioactive or nuclear weapons face up to seven years in prison. Under existing British law, only hoaxes relating to explosive devices are an offence.
Thai officials have announced that the government would not inform citizens of suspicious letters until authorities had confirmed that they did indeed contain anthrax. The policy, said Deputy Health Minister Surapong Suebwonglee in the capital of Bangkok today, was not a case of "withholding of information" but merely an attempt to control the panic.
It Could Be Talc
Despite a precautionary headline in a leading newspaper, which read, "It could be talcum powder," rising bio-terror in India compelled health authorities to issue government guidelines on anthrax treatment to more than 50,000 health care centers across the country in a bid to assure its billion-strong populace, many of whom have meager access to health care, that the government had things under control.
Yemen has also had its share of anthrax scares. A Yemeni official today confirmed that two suspicious packages containing an Arabic magazine and a letter powdered with a white substance had been found by mail workers. The announcement followed the discovery of a suspicious letter mailed to the Belgian embassy in the capital of Sanaa last week. The letter was being tested in a laboratory in Brussels, Belgium.
A year ago, Yemen was the site of a major terrorist attack, when a boat laden with explosives drew up alongside the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden and detonated, killing 17 U.S. military personnel.