A case of anthrax has been diagnosed at ABCNEWS in New York, the third such case at a major American media outlet this month.
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ABCNEWS officials said that a 7-month-old boy who visited the network's headquarters in New York for several hours on Sept. 28 contracted the cutaneous form of the disease, which officials say is highly treatable.
The boy, who is the son of a freelance news producer, developed a rash 17 days ago, said ABCNEWS President David Westin.
"There were some difficulties in diagnosing the disease. The child ended up in the hospital. We learned this evening that the child, in preliminary tests, through blood tests and biopsy, has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax.," said Westin.
He said the child was responding well to treatment and his prognosis was excellent.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it was unlikely there would be other cases at the network because, given the incubation time of the disease, other people would likely have shown symptoms by now. But Giuliani said officials would conduct tests in the ABCNEWS buildings as a precautionary measure.
"We'll be conducting an environmental review … we're doing that out of an excess of caution," Giuliani said.
Officials didn't rule out the infant getting the disease elsewhere, but were leaning towards ABC because of other cases in New York and around the country at media outlets. "We don't know for sure that that was contracted through an exposure at ABCNEWS, but we are operating on this assumption at this time," Westin said.
Investigators do not know the source of the anthrax and have not ruled out suspicious packages. They urged any ABC employee who believes they may have handled a questionable package to come forward immediately. In a statement to employees, Westin said that investigators would be checking ABCNEWS buildings over the next two or three days to see if there was any evidence of spores in the areas where the child visited.
He said the investigation would determine whether any workers would be tested for anthrax or given preventive treatment. New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said investigators would be sent to conduct environmental surveys in the mailrooms at CNN, CBS, The Associated Press, The Daily News, The FOX News, and The New York Post as a precautionary measure.
It's the fourth confirmed case of the disease since a worker at American Media Inc. in Florida died from the inhaled form of the disease on Oct. 6. A second worker at AMI, which publishes The Sun and other tabloids, was confirmed to have the same form of the disease today, and a third was exposed to spores of the bacterium.
An NBC News assistant to Tom Brokaw was diagnosed Friday with cutaneous anthrax, which was linked to a letter containing a granular brown substance that was mailed with a Trenton, N.J., postmark.
Officials again called on people not to panic. "Right now we're still dealing with two instances [in New York]," Barry Mawn, director of the FBI in New York. "Nationally there's a number of reports of which 99 percent of them are turning out to be unfounded."
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