'NY Times' Rio Bureau Gets Anthrax Letter

A reporter for The New York Times in Rio de Janeiro received a envelope that tested positive for anthrax, the paper said today, bringing to two the number of instances involving anthrax in letters outside the United States.

The letter at the Times bureau in Rio de Janeiro initially tested positive for anthrax, according to Brazilian authorities. Additional tests are being performed.

The letter was postmarked Oct. 5 from New York City, and received at the bureau on Oct. 16, the Times said in a statement.

It was left unopened when an employee noticed the letter had no return address. The employee then put the letter in a secure plastic bag and turned over to Brazilian authorities.

All four employees in the Rio bureau were tested for anthrax and given Cipro as a preventive measure, the Times said.

Better News in Kenya

The letter received at the Times comes a day after a Kenyan national become the first confirmed anthrax exposure outside the United States after receiving a piece of suspicious mail.

Fears of a large-scale attack were allayed today when officials announced that two other letters suspected of containing anthrax tested negative.

Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri told reporters in Nairobi today that although the "overall sample" for the two letters had tested negative, health officials were testing four other suspicious letters.

One of the two letters that had tested negative had been mailed to a U.N. official from Pakistan. However, the director general of Pakistan's Health Ministry said Pakistan had no facilities to produce anthrax.

Bioterror in South Asia

Concerns also hit the Pakistani capital of Islamabad today, when the British High Commission turned over a "suspicious" letter to Pakistani health officials. An embassy employee who opened the letter was taken to a city hospital for tests.

A doctor at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Science in Islamabad told ABCNEWS that the male embassy employee had tested negative for anthrax. The employee would however stay in hospital under observation for a while, the doctor added.

Suspicious letters containing powdery substances have been cited around the world as a combination of panic and hoaxes succeeded in putting staff at post offices and government buildings on edge.

Anthrax panic gripped the British and Australian embassies in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo today when suspicious mail from both embassies was handed over to health officials for investigations.

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.

Disruption in Britain

In a rare disruption of proceedings in Britain's parliament, opening was delayed by an hour today after a suspicious package reportedly containing white powder was discovered in the members' post office at the House of Commons.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said the package was being investigated.

Briton Claire Fletcher, 27, an assistant to CBS anchorman Dan Rather in New York, had tested positive for cutaneous anthrax after coming in contact with mail believed to have been sent to Rather.

Neighbors Not Envious, Just Cautious

Postal officials in many Latin American countries, which share a geographic proximity with the United States and many of whose populations work in the United States, have taken extra precautions and have issued protective gloves and gas masks to a number of workers. The additional precautions came as thousands of calls about suspicious mail were received across the region.

The United States' northern neighbor took the unusual step of overriding the patent for Cipro, an antibiotic to treat anthrax, which is held by German-based pharmaceutical Bayer A.G. The move was severely criticized by Bayer officials, but the Canadian government stands by its decision.

"These are extraordinary and unusual times," a spokeswoman for Health Canada told reporters. "Canadians expect and demand that their government will take all the necessary steps to protect their health and safety."

Despite pleas from some U.S. senators to follow in Canada's footsteps, the United States has resisted such a move.

In India, where patent laws allow companies to produce versions of drugs patented in the West without paying patent fees in an effort to keep drug prices down, nearly 80 Indian drug companies sell Cipro at a thirtieth of their price in the United States.

India is the world's fourth largest manufacturer of drugs and offers them at some of the world's lowest prices.

Some of the major Indian pharmaceutical firms have offered to sell Cipro to the United States at cheap rates but the United States has still to respond to the offers.

Indian officials have confirmed that suspicious mail was delivered to an air base and atomic research facility in western India. But health officials have said they were in a position to treat anthrax cases, should they occur.