A case of anthrax has been diagnosed at ABCNEWS in New York, the third such case at a major American media outlet this month.
MORE ANTHRAX-RELATED NEWS:
• Anthrax Found on Capitol
• Anthrax Q & A
• Probe Centered in Trenton, N.J.
• Tracing the Strains
• Bush: 'Possible Link' to Bin Laden
• Many False Alarms
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."
• Anthrax Found on Capitol
The latest case comes after a letter containing a white powdery substance that tested positive for the potentially deadly bacteria anthrax was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The letter was received at Daschle's personal office in the Hart building at approximately 10:30 a.m. today and was opened and handled by one of the South Dakota Democrat's interns and a member of his staff.
Two preliminary field tests performed by Capitol Police indicated the presence of anthrax spores.
President Bush disclosed the incident this afternoon after speaking on the phone with the Senate leader.
"His office received a letter, and it had anthrax in it," the president told reporters during a photo op with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the White House Rose Garden. "He said it was a letter that had been wrapped a lot and that the powder was within the confines of … the envelope."
Sources said the letter was wrapped in tape and contained a note that read: "This is anthrax."
Daschle's office has been quarantined and between 40 and 50 people — including members of his staff and other personnel who may have come in contact with the letter — are being tested and treated with antibiotics for possible anthrax exposure.
"They are innocent people caught up in a matter [with] which they have nothing to do," Daschle, who was not in his office when the letter was received, said at a news conference. "I am very, very disappointed and angered."
All mail deliveries to Capitol Hill have been suspended and unopened letters and packages received by House and Senate offices were being collected as officials put new screening procedures in place. Tours of the Capitol building have also been canceled indefinitely.
Daschle, visibly upset by the incident, vowed Congress' work would not be disrupted.
"This Senate and this institution will not stop," he told his colleagues on the Senate floor. "We will not cease our business … Our work will continue."
At least a dozen reports of suspicious packages were phoned in by the offices of various lawmakers on Capitol Hill today. Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said the letter received by Daschle's office was the only one that tested positive for any harmful substance. He stressed that the tests were only preliminary.
"We've run a number of calls today and this is the only one we've had a preliminary positive indication on a field test," Nichols told reporters.
The letter and its contents were sent to an Army research facility in Maryland for further analysis and authorities say they expect to know by Tuesday what the suspicious substance is.
"Only time will tell what may or may not develop," said Capitol Hill physician John Eisold.
• Probe Focuses on Trenton, N.J.
Officials said the letter delivered to Daschle's office was postmarked on Sept. 18 in Trenton, N.J. — the same date and place as on the postmark of an envelope holding a brown granular substance containing anthrax spores that was mailed to Brokaw.
The Trenton facility processes mail from 46 other area post offices, making it difficult for federal investigators to pinpoint the precise location from which each letter was mailed.
Postal Inspector Tony Esposito said two employees at the facility were being treated with antibiotics as a precaution.
"Some symptoms that they were having that could be loosley construed as being anthrax symptoms," he said. "They could also be symptoms from common cold and flu-like symptoms."
• Second Florida Employee Ill With Anthrax
Meanwhile, Florida state officials confirmed mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco has been diagnosed with the inhaled form of anthrax.
Blanco, 73 and employed at American Media Inc in Boca Raton, has been in a Miami hospital since last Monday after doctors discovered anthrax spores in his nose. His fellow employee at AMI, photo editor Bob Stevens, died on Oct. 5 after inhaling anthrax spores, and seven others at the tabloid publishing company are now being treated for exposure to the bacteria. A section of the Boca Raton post office that processes mail sent to AMI was shut down and sealed off today after a small amount of anthrax spores was discovered there.
Federal authorities, meanwhile, expect to know soon whether the anthrax spores that infected a woman in New York are from the same strain that killed a Florida man. The Centers for Disease Control were nearing completion an analysis of anthrax spores discovered at American Media Inc, and those found in the letter sent to NBC.
Erin O'Connor, Brokaw's personal assistant, contracted cutaneous, or "skin," anthrax after opening a letter addressed to the NBC anchor. The cutaneous form of anthrax, unlike the inhaled form, is rarely fatal if treated properly.
A New York City police officer and two laboratory technicians who handled the letter tested positive for exposure to anthrax and are being treated and a second NBC employee who also came in contact with the letter is being treated as a precautionary measure.
A senior federal health official told ABCNEWS the strain on anthrax found in Florida is the so-called Ames strain — one that was originally cultivated in Iowa, but used in research laboratories around the world.
Leading authorities on biological warfare say that discovery strongly suggests professional involvement because the strain is known to be resistant to vaccines.
The presence of anthrax was discovered in two field tests on a letter sent to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nev. late last week. But tests today by the Centers for Disease Control revealed the letter did not contain anthrax and that the initial detection was a false positive. Local health department officials confirmed today that all six people believed to have come into contact with the letter — which was postmarked in Malaysia — have tested negative for anthrax.
Amid the nationwide anthrax scare reports, Planned Parenthood Federation of America said its offices and health centers in Washington, D.C. and in at least 12 other states had received suspicious letters and threats. The abortion rights group said there were no reported injuries and law enforcement officials were conducting tests letters that contained an unidentified powdery white substance. So far initial test results on a letter and substance sent to offices in Greensboro, N.C. came back negative for anthrax.
• 'Possible Link' to Bin Laden, Says Bush
Bush said today there was no evidence to tie any of the anthrax cases to Osama bin Laden, but that there is a chance the incidents may be connected to his al Qaeda terrorist network.
"There may be some possible link," the president said. "[Bin Laden] and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country so … we're making sure that we're connecting any dots that we have to [to] find out who's doing this."
Since Friday, reports of possible anthrax exposure or suspicious mail have cropped up in a number of places around the country — including at media outlets such as The New York Times, CBS News' Washington bureau and Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, Calif. — but they were found to be false alarms.
Giuliani stressed today that only one person in the city of 8 million is known to have actually contracted anthrax.
"When you consider the number of people … and the amount of mail that comes into the city … we are dealing with only one situation so far," he said at a news conference this afternoon.
Giuliani said that between 7 a.m. and 1:50 p.m. today, authorities had responded to 82 calls regarding suspicious packages, retrieving two dozen packages.
"So far, none of them appear to be positive for anything dangerous — and some of them have the scent of baby powder," he said.
Federal authorities, however, continued to urge the public to remain vigilant and err on the side of caution.
"The key thing for the American people is to be cautious about letters that come from somebody you may not know, unmarked letters, letters that … that look suspicious, and give those letters and packages to local law authorities," the president said today.
Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Claude Allen told a congressional panel today that part of the $1.5 billion in new funding the department has requested would be used to dramatically increase the stockpile of antibiotics used to treat anthrax.
The current government supply could treat 2 million people over a 60-day period. HHS wants to boost the capacity to be able to treat 12 million people over the same period.