New Anthrax Case Reported:
In NBC News Employee - New York City
An NBC News employee was infected with the skin form of anthrax after the network received mail containing a suspicious powder, authorities said Friday.
A network source said the envelope was addressed to anchorman Tom Brokaw.
The anthrax is far less serious than the inhaled form of the disease, which killed a Florida man a week ago. The NBC employee is being treated with antibiotics and is expected to recover, the network said.
Barry Mawn, head of the FBI office in New York, said authorities "see no connection whatsoever" to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The FBI is checking to see if there is a link to the Florida case, but "preliminarily I do not see that," Mawn said.
The FBI has begun a criminal investigation to find the source of the anthrax in the New York case, Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington. An investigation is also under way in Florida.
Ashcroft said the letter to NBC postmarked Sept. 25 "may have transmitted the anthrax," but authorities stopped short of saying the mail was the source.
The envelope "may have contained material contaminated with the spore-form of anthrax," according to a statement from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
NBC said a test result confirming the infection at its Rockefeller Center headquarters came back Friday morning. The infected woman is an assistant to Brokaw, network officials said on condition of anonymity. One said Brokaw was being tested for anthrax.
"Living in New York and working in this building for this company, you're already on edge," said Brian Rolapp, 29, a business development manager for NBC. "But I think everyone is a little startled that it's this close to home."
Skin and inhaled forms of anthrax are caused by the same bacterium. The only difference is whether the microscopic spores enter the skin through a cut or if there are enough spores to be inhaled and thus cause infection through the lungs. It takes more than 8,000 spores to cause the inhalation form of anthrax.
Neither form can be spread directly from person to person.
The first symptoms of skin-or cutaneous-anthrax are reddish-black sores on the exposed skin. If the disease is caught at that point and treated with antibiotics it is easily cured. Even without treatment, cutaneous anthrax is fatal in only one case out of 20.
Officials advised people not to open or even shake any suspicious mail. Instead, they should leave it alone and contact authorities.
"Our nation is still in danger but the government is doing everything on our power to protect our citizenry," President Bush said during a White House event celebrating Hispanic heritage.
"The American people need to go about their lives. We cannot let terrorists lock our country down," he said. "They will not take this country down."
At a news conference in New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said tests would be done at the NBC offices. The third floor and one or two other parts of the 70-story GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Center were sealed off for federal health investigators. Those areas of the building were cleared of employees.
Brokaw, who attended the hastily called news conference, rubbed his eyes, wiped his brow and did not speak except when asked if the woman was his secretary. "She is an employee of 'Nightly News,"' Brokaw replied.
The infected woman has been treated with the antibiotic Cipro since Oct. 1, officials said. The mayor said all employees exposed to the powder will be tested for anthrax and treated with Cipro.
"People should not overreact to this," Giuliani said. "Much of this is being done to allay people's fears."
A spokeswoman for The New York Times said reporter Judith Miller had received an envelope containing a "powdery white substance." The substance was being tested by health authorities.
Miller, who was formerly stationed in the Middle East, is co-author of the book "Germ: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War."
After the envelope arrived, employees were moved out of the third-floor newsroom to other areas in the building on West 43rd Street, spokeswoman Christine Mohan said.
Air tests for radioactive and chemical substances were negative, she said. She also said the substance smelled like talcum powder.
The GE Building in midtown Manhattan, in addition to being the headquarters for NBC, is home to "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Crowds milled around the front of the building and barricades were put up Friday, but no streets were closed.
The Associated Press, located across the street, temporarily closed its mailroom operations. CBS also said it shut down its New York mailroom as a precaution and was not accepting new mail. ABC said it halted all internal mail delivery in New York and Washington pending a security evaluation.
After receiving the mail last month, NBC said it immediately contacted the FBI, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York Department of Health.
"The mail was tested by these organizations, and the employee was treated by several physicians. All these tests came back negative," NBC said Friday. "However, this morning, a later test on the employee came back positive for traces of cutaneous anthrax."
The disclosure came a week after a photo editor for The Sun supermarket tabloid in Boca Raton, Fla., died of inhaled form of anthrax. The American Media Inc. building where several supermarket tabloids are published was sealed off after anthrax was also found on the keyboard of the editor, Bob Stevens, 63, and in the nasal passages of two co-workers.
Traces of anthrax were later found in the American Media mailroom, authorities said. The other two employees are taking antibiotics and one has returned to work.
At an afternoon news conference in Florida, FBI special agent Hector Pesquera said test results of 965 people who were in the building recently have found no new infections. A few test results were still pending.
Investigators also tested 15 clerks who worked in the South Florida post office that handled American Media's mail, a union official said.