A New Jersey postal worker was determined to have pulmonary anthrax Sunday, and health officials reiterated their advice that thousands of people who handle mail at their jobs in the District of Columbia take preventive antibiotics.
The female postal employee, who already had been on a watch list, was the 13th confirmed case of anthrax since the outbreak began last month. The disease has afflicted people in the District, New York, New Jersey and Florida.
The 56-year-old mail handler works in a central distribution center in Hamilton Township, near Trenton, N.J. which processed tainted letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. The New Jersey Health Department said late Sunday she is hospitalized in "clinically improving" condition.
It was the eighth confirmed case of the more serious inhalation anthrax. Five other people are known to have anthrax skin infections. Inhalation anthrax has claimed three lives during the bioterrorism - two Washington postal workers and an editor at a Florida-based tabloid.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said the administration was concerned that there might be more mail besides the Daschle and Brokaw letters contaminated with the bacteria that causes anthrax.
"There may be other letters that are stuck in the system," Card said on "Fox News Sunday." "But we are working hard to make sure than any contamination is confined and that we can deal with it."
Card also said the administration was working to determine who is sending the letters to government and media offices, although he acknowledged progress has been slow. "All of our scientists are working to try to find out what it is," he said. "But we've only had two very, very small samples that we have for analysis. And I just don't think we have all the answers yet."
This was largely a weekend of waiting - waiting for test results from 15 postal facilities and waiting for mail handlers to show up at hospitals and government centers where antibiotics are being dispensed. Friday, officials said as many as 4,000 companies are immediately "downstream" from the District's Brentwood Road postal facility where the two employees who died of anthrax worked.
Although mail handlers at all those companies were urged to start on antibiotics immediately, the expected stream was only a trickle.
In Virginia, 40 health department employees and volunteers were on hand in Fairfax County to distribute the antibiotic doxycycline, but only 23 people showed up and received medicine. At D.C. General Hospital, medical personnel expected 2,500 Brentwood postal workers, but officials couldn't line up enough buses to bring them. Only about 200 workers came by on their own, along with a few dozen others who work in mailrooms across the city. More workers are expected to be transported to the hospital Monday.
Officials said they suspect some of those eligible hadn't heard about the free disbursement center and others might have gone to their own physicians.
The employees at Brentwood, where the Daschle letter was processed, were given enough Cipro last week to last 10 days, meaning most will run out of that medication Tuesday. They now are getting a 50-day supply of doxycycline, a drug that health officials said was just as effective as Cipro and less apt to cause side effects.
No new suspected cases were reported over the weekend, and the three area residents who are hospitalized with confirmed diagnoses of inhalation anthrax remained in serious condition, officials said.
The 59-year old State Department contractor - the only Washington area anthrax victim who did not work at the Brentwood facility - was holding his own, hospital officials said. The man works at a State Department mail distribution center in Sterling, Va.
"His blood cultures have been showing no growth for new bacteria," said Wes Williams, a spokesman for the Winchester Medical Center. "That means that the antibiotics are being effective in treating the anthrax." He is being treated with three antibiotics - Cipro, penicillin and rifampin.