Dozens of people on Capitol Hill have tested positive for exposure to what law enforcement officials say was professionally manufactured anthrax, and a health official says strains of the potentially deadly bacteria found in New York and Florida appear to match.
MORE ANTHRAX-RELATED NEWS:
• N.Y., Fla. Strains Appear to Match • N.Y. Governor's Office Tests Positive • Daschle, Brokaw Letters Believed Linked • Feds: 'No Direct Link' to Bin Laden • Anthrax Q & A
Two days after a letter containing a white, powdery anthrax-contaminated substance was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's personal office in the Hart Senate Office Building, nasal swabs from 31 people tested positive for the presence of anthrax spores.
Those who were exposed include 23 members of Daschle's staff, three staffers for Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., whose office on the fifth and sixth floors of Hart Senate Office Building is adjacent to Daschle's, and five Capitol Police officers.
This evening, the Senate Sgt. at Arms sent a letter to all staffers on the fifth and sixth floors of the Hart Senate Office Building asking them to go on a 60-day regimen of Cipro. Previously, a three-day regimen was suggested.
"I'm concerned for my staff. I'm angered that this has happened. But I feel very confident … about the fact that everyone will be OK," said Daschle, D-S.D., noting that no one on Capitol Hill is known to have been infected with the disease.
The House was set to adjourn at the end of the day until Tuesday, but Senate leaders decided to keep their chamber in session through Thursday. All congressional office buildings will be vacated to allow authorities to sweep the Capitol complex for anthrax spores.
Authorities said this afternoon that the bacteria does not appear to have spread beyond the general vicinity of Daschle's office.
"The exposure has been confined to a very specific area," Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, the deputy surgeon general, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "At this time there has been no evidence of spores in the ventilation system."
Senior law enforcement officials said today that a laboratory analysis of the anthrax-laden powder in the letter received by Daschle's office last Friday and opened Monday has revealed the substance was "professionally" manufactured, suggesting the powder was produced by a well-funded organization.
The officials added that further testing is being done to determine whether or not the material is "weapons-grade" like the varieties produced by state-supported operations.
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Sources have told ABCNEWS the powder has a high concentration of anthrax spores and is very finely milled, making it easy for the spores to become airborne and infect its victims with the often fatal inhalation form of anthrax.
"These are no amateurs," said one official.
Lawmakers say authorities have also advised them of the high quality of the material.
"We were told that it was a higher grade quality than what has been seen," Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee told ABCNEWS. "It is an anthrax that has clearly been weaponized. This was an attack."
• New York, Florida Strains Appear to Match
Dr. David Fleming, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control, said today the strain of anthrax found in New York "appears to match" a strain found in Florida.
A letter containing anthrax-contaminated powder was mailed to NBC News headquarters in New York gave one employee a cutaneous or "skin" anthrax infection, a highly treatable form of the disease.
One employee at American Media Inc., a tabloid publishing company in Boca Raton, Fla., died on Oct. 5 after inhaling anthrax spores and another has been diagnosed with the often fatal inhalant form of anthrax. Six other AMI employees have tested positive for exposure to anthrax.
The news that the anthrax spores found in each case could be from the same strain suggests that the two incidents may be linked.
ABCNEWS this week became the third major news organization to become involved in a case of anthrax infection. A 7-month-old infant, who was in ABCNEWS headquarters for several hours on Sept. 28, was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax on Monday. The child is the son of an ABCNEWS producer and is responding well to treatment.
Authorities announced today that a test of the ventilation system at ABCNEWS has turned up negative for the presence of anthrax spores. Although spores were found in the ventilation system at NBC, the first batch of tests of 500 employees have come back negative for anthrax or anthrax exposure.
• N.Y. Governor's Office Tests Positive
New York Gov. George Pataki announced today his offices in Manhattan have tested positive for "the likely presence of anthrax."
Pataki said a suspicious letter prompted his staff to alert authorities and that a preliminary test confirmed the likely presence of spores in a room used by state police officers assigned to the governor's security detail.
The governor said no members of his staff have tested positive for anthrax or anthrax exposure, but that he and his staff were taking antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
• Daschle, Brokaw Letters Believed Linked
Senior law enforcement officials told ABCNEWS investigators believe that a letter containing anthrax that was delivered to Daschle's office and another sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw's office in New York are linked.
A federal official who has seen the Daschle letter said it was dated "09-11-01," the date of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and contained the message: "This is next. Take your medicine. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
A source who has seen the Brokaw letter said it was also dated "09-11-01" and read in part: "This is next. Take penacilin (sic) now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
Both envelopes had prepaid postage and were postmarked in Trenton, N.J. and authorities have said the block handwriting on the outside of each envelope is similar.
Despite the similarities in the letters, however, officials say the anthrax-contaminated powders they contained are very different: The substance sent to Daschle was white and appeared to have been professionally manufactured, while the powder mailed to Brokaw was brown and crude in comparison.
• Feds: 'No Direct Link' to Bin Laden
Federal authorities say no evidence has emerged of a connection between the recent rash of anthrax attacks to last month's suicide hijacking strikes in New York and Washington.
"While we have not ruled out linkage to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 or the perpetrators of that attack, we do not have conclusive evidence … that it is part of that endeavor," Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters at the Justice Department Tuesday.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said investigators had so far found "no direct link" between the anthrax cases and "organized terrorism."
President Bush has said "there may be some possible link" between the cases and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.