Clinic unveils rapid test for anthrax exposure

Monday, November 5, 2001

AP Science WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- One anthrax victim was released from a New Jersey hospital Monday, another mourned in the Bronx as the nation struggled to overcome an attack of bioterrorism.

With 17 cases of the disease confirmed nationwide, officials at the Mayo Clinic unveiled a more rapid test for anthrax exposure and said it should help in the event of further threats.

"We're talking about less than an hour instead of days," said Franklin Cockerill, a microbiologist who described the advance. "This should deter some of the anxiety" among individuals fearing exposure, he added.

There was one fresh disclosure of contamination -- at a private post office inside the Pentagon. But officials were cheered when Food and Drug Administration mailrooms in Rockville, Md., which yielded positive results for the bacteria in initial tests, were cleared in subsequent testing.

A few miles away, scores of lawmakers were allowed back into their quarters in the Longworth House Office Building. The building, closed at the height of the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill 10 days ago, reopened to all but Reps. John Baldacci, D-Maine, Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., whose offices were found to be contaminated. Pence told reporters in Indianapolis that no symptoms of anthrax infection had been found among members of his family of staff or anyone known to have visited his office.

The building's reopening left only one of six major facilities still shut down, the Senate Hart Building, where anthrax-tainted mail was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office. Officials had been planning to begin a decontamination by chlorine dioxide gas in the next few days, but Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman at the Environmental Protection Agency, said government and private scientists had raised concerns over the weekend about its effectiveness.

In New Jersey, postal worker Norma Wallace was released from Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly. One of 10 people nationwide with a confirmed case of inhalation anthrax, she worked at a regional mail facility known to have processed tainted letters mailed to Daschle, the New York Post and NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw.

In New York, Kathy L. Nguyen was remembered as a pious and well-liked neighbor at a funeral Monday in the South Bronx neighborhood where she lived for two decades.

"She was just a well-loved individual," the Rev. Carlos Rodriguez said of Nguyen, an employee of the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital who died Wednesday of the inhalation form of the disease anthrax.

Nguyen's diagnosis has particularly troubled investigators, since it is the only case with no known link to the mail service, and raises questions of another form of spread of the disease, as yet undiscovered.

Following discovery Friday of a link between the mail and the skin anthrax of a woman who works at an accounting firm, officials said that all cases of the disease in New Jersey could be traced to the Hamilton mail processing facility near Trenton.

"I think a lot of people are starting to think cross-contamination is a real possibility," said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, the state's epidemiologist. "It is just a pure hypothesis, but it makes sense."

At the Defense Department, officials said two mail boxes in a private post office on a commercial concourse inside the Pentagon tested positive for anthrax, Pentagon officials said Monday. One of the boxes was rented by an unidentified member of the Navy; the other was unassigned.

The facility, which is served by the big Brentwood postal plant in Washington that was closed after anthrax spores were found Oct. 15, does not process official Defense Department mail. That task is handled by other facilities, which have tested negative for anthrax.

At the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, several dozen health care workers have been vaccinated against smallpox. That precaution will protect medical personnel who would be the first to respond to any outbreak of the highly contagious disease.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: