U-WIRE: College newspaper receives suspect letter, fears anthrax

U-WIRE) TAMPA, Fla. – A part-time employee at The Oracle, the student newspaper at University of South Florida, said Monday she received an envelope containing a white, powdery substance sometime last week.

As a precaution, she was tested for anthrax on Tuesday. The employee, who is not a student and whose name isn’t being published because of medical sensitivity surrounding the case, said she thought nothing of the incident at the time. She said she threw the envelope in the trash without touching it or placing it to her nose to smell.

University spokesman Michael Reich said USF’s Environmental Health and Safety officials inspected the office space where the envelope was opened and there were no remaining signs of the substance.

No other Oracle employees were tested Tuesday for exposure to anthrax because contact with the powder was limited to one person, as far as officials can tell.

Medical experts said people in the office who did not have direct contact with the substance will not be tested unless a positive case of anthrax is identified. This would be done through testing of the suspicious powder or the individual who was in contact with it.

Anthrax can be contracted through a cut or skin abrasion, by inhalation or through the intestinal tract. Anthrax is not spread from one person to another.

According to MSNBC.com report, the FBI has received more than 2,300 incidents or suspected incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents since Oct. 1.

Mathew Wasserman, an Oracle copy editor, said he thinks it might be a false alarm because of the numerous hoaxes around the nation.

“I don’t think it’s going to turn out to be anything. The whole thing seems fishy, ” he said

Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director for Student Health Services said symptoms for exposure to anthrax spores are similar to those of the common cold. People should watch for a fever higher than 100.5 degrees, usually an indicator that a physician should be consulted, she said.

Oracle staffers were concerned that no treatment was being given to them once their co-worker received the envelope with powder. Terenzi said if everyone is currently healthy, there is no need for alarm.

If the employee tested for anthrax is found to have contracted the disease, Terenzi said antibiotics will keep other Oracle employees from becoming ill. Terenzi said the important thing is to stop the bacterium from producing a toxin, which can be fatal.

President Judy Genshaft also visited The Oracle on Tuesday to ask staffers how they were feeling about the situation.

“It’s very important we use precautions,” Genshaft said.

“We have the best testing facilities in the country,” she said. “We have the best infectious disease center in the country.”

-Kevin Graham and Selina Roman
The Oracle (U. South Florida)

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