N.Y. Woman Has Inhalation Anthrax

Authorities are scrambling to find out how a New York woman critically ill with inhalation anthrax contracted the often fatal disease.

MORE ANTHRAX-RELATED NEWS:

• Two Cases Raise Mail Concerns

• Second N.J. Inhalation Case Confirmed

• Anthrax Found at ABC

• Anthrax Forces Supreme Court Evacuation

• New 'Hot Spots' Found in Washington

"The woman is critically ill," New York City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen said as he announced the 61-year-old hospital worker has tested positive for inhalation anthrax. "At this point she is struggling for survival."

The patient, a Bronx resident employed at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, is the first person in the country to be diagnosed with the disease who does not work at a mail facility or have ties to the media.

"The reason that this particular case is concerning is because it doesn't fit the pattern that we've seen with the other illnesses," said Dr. Stephen Ostroff of the Centers for Disease Control. "There's no clear linkage with mail in the way that all of the other cases had a very clear linkage."

The woman works in a basement stockroom that, up until a remodeling undertaken over the past two weeks, was combined with the health facility's mailroom.

Nine other people have been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax in the United States, including four postal workers and an employee at a State Department mail facility in Washington, two postal workers in New Jersey and two employees at a tabloid publishing company in Florida. Three of those have died.

"It does appear to be different than the previous cases that we were able to trace back to exposure either at a post office or mail that went through a particular post office," Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said in an interview with ABCNEWS, referring to the New York case.

"You've got the FBI, the Department of Justice, [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] taking a look at where she worked … [and] where she lived, to see if we can determine how she was exposed."

The woman was hospitalized Sunday night and remains in serious condition.

• Cases Raise Home Mail Concerns

The confirmation of the first case of inhalation anthrax in New York came after officials announced that a New Jersey resident had contracted cutaneous anthrax, the far less dangerous skin form of the disease.

The 51-year-old woman works as an accountant at a business that receives its mail from a Hamilton, N.J., postal facility, which is known to have processed anthrax-contaminated letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on Capitol Hill, NBC News headquarters in New York and the New York Post.

The resident, who was released from the hospital Monday, is the first person in New Jersey to test positive for anthrax who does not work for the Postal Service.

Although the causes of infection in the two cases are unknown, officials say both raise concerns about whether private citizens are at risk of being infected by anthrax through mail delivered to their homes.

"Up to yesterday, there was no evidence at all that there could be or is an individual in which there might be the reasonable question, 'Did they get infected from … a piece of mail that went to their home?'" Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said today at a White House news conference. "That is being intensively investigated right now."

Even as he tried to reassure the public that the mail is overwhelmingly safe, Ridge conceded there was at least a slight risk of infection.

"To tell you that it is absolutely, positively, for all times, for all purposes, forever risk-free — I don't think anybody's ever said that," Ridge said. "But … we think you ought to open your mail and you ought to use the postal system."

• Second N.J. Inhalation Case Confirmed

State officials in New Jersey disclosed today that a second postal worker from the Hamilton Township facility has been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. The employee, a woman, was released from the hospital and is reportedly recovering from the illness after being treated with antibiotics.

A second female postal worker from the facility remains hospitalized after testing positive for inhalation anthrax. And three other workers have been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax.

This afternoon's announcement brought the total number of confirmed inhalation cases to 10.

• Anthrax Found at ABC

ABCNEWS announced today that tests confirmed the presence of anthrax in a mailroom at the network's headquarters in New York.

The 7-month-old son of an ABCNEWS producer who visited the bureau tested positive for cutaneous anthrax earlier this month, but the cause of the infant's infection was not immediately known. The baby is recovering.

Anthrax had previously been detected at the New York headquarters of CBS and NBC as well as at the New York Post. In the NBC and Post cases, letters containing anthrax were found. No suspicious letters were found at ABC or CBS.

ABCNEWS President David Westin said the entire second floor, where the contaminated mailroom is located, has been disinfected.

• Anthrax Forces Supreme Court Evacuation

The nation's highest court had not convened outside the Supreme Court building since it was constructed in 1935, but the justices heard oral arguments today for a second straight day at a nearby U.S. District courthouse.

The unprecedented displacement was prompted by the discovery last week of anthrax spores at an off-site inspection warehouse that handles mail sent to the high court. A court spokeswoman announced Monday that anthrax was also detected in the basement mailroom of the Supreme Court building itself.

All 400 court employees, including the nine justices, were tested and given antibiotics as a precaution.

• New 'Hot Spots' Found in Washington

The number of known anthrax "hot spots" (sites where anthrax has been detected) in the nation's capital climbed this week as authorities announced the discovery of the bacteria in three other federal government buildings and two new postal facilities.

Anthrax was discovered last week at an off-site facility that handles the State Department's mail and officials said Monday the bacteria had also been found in two of the mailrooms at the State Department building, and on mail pouches found at a diplomatic security annex and at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru.

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