Anthrax keeps postal workers on edge

Posted 6:55 p.m. Oct. 29

By Patrick W. Higgins
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Relatives and coworkers buried two postal workers over the weekend who died last week from inhalation anthrax as thousands of their coworkers were tested for the disease and given precautionary antibiotics.

Thomas L. Morris Jr. and Joseph Curseen, the two employees who died, worked in the Brentwood Road Post Office, the main postal facility that processes mail bound for Washington, D.C.

The facility tested positive for anthrax on Tuesday. Traces of anthrax were also detected in remote mailrooms for the White House, the Supreme Court, the CIA and the Justice Department.

Nasal swabs by the end of last week of 29 Brentwood Road postal employees revealed 14 had been exposed to anthrax, though not necessarily affected. Two postal employees from other D.C. post offices and one New Jersey postal worker were hospitalized last weekend and are receiving intense antibiotic treatment for what doctors believed to be pulmonary, or inhaled anthrax.

A State Department worker was diagnosed with pulmonary anthrax last week, but officials said that State Department mail was not processed at the Brentwood Road facility as were all the previously contaminated letters.

The recent deaths brought the number of confirmed anthrax infections to 14 and the number of patients who tested in the thousands. Prior to this latest outbreak, the last anthrax related death in the United States was in 1978.

While the number of anthrax exposures continues to grow, postal employees across the nation are being offered a 10-day treatment of Cipro, one antibiotic considered most effective against the deadly bacteria.

Most postal workers said they were happy to receive the medication, albeit late. Others took a more traditional approach to treatment.

“It’s not mandatory, but they put so much pressure on you to take it. I’m one of those people who believes, unless I’m sick, and I know I’m sick, I’m not taking any medication,” a postal worker who wished to remain anonymous told U-WIRE.

Officials acknowledge that the strains of anthrax seem to be from the same source. In the case of the letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), weapons-grade anthrax was detected.

Weapons-grade anthrax is a chemically altered form which makes the disease able to survive in the air. Some experts argue this type of bacteria comes from only three countries: the United States, Russia and Iraq.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told reporters Sunday morning the White House is closely monitoring the situation.

“We’re asking people to be very careful,” he told Fox News Sunday. “I have no reason to believe that our postal service is in jeopardy of not delivering mail. But we are being very sensitive about those places where anthrax has been found.”

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