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Tainted Letter May Be From N.Y.

Inquiry: Anthrax- contaminated mailing to a Chilean doctor may have originated in the U.S., despite Swiss postmark, police say.

November 29, 2001|From Associated Press

BERN, Switzerland — A letter sent to Chile that was found to be tainted with anthrax bore a Swiss postmark but may have been mailed from New York, Swiss police said Wednesday.

Dr. Antonio Banfi, a pediatrician in Santiago, Chile, received the letter--with a Swiss postmark and a Florida return address--two weeks ago in what may be the first confirmed case of anthrax-contaminated mail outside the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the contamination last week and was conducting further tests to determine whether the suspected spores in the letter to Banfi were from the same strain as anthrax found in letters in Washington and New York.

"We're certain it's anthrax, but what strain of anthrax is something that's very important to determine," said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman in Atlanta.

"It will go a long way to help us determine as to whether there may be any correlation between the incident in Chile and those in the U.S. in regards to anthrax in the mail," Skinner said.

Test results could be returned by late Wednesday, he said.

Skinner said a sample taken from the letter tested positive for anthrax in Chile. Researchers then sent the sample to a laboratory in Miami, where technicians confirmed the findings. The letter remains in Chile, he said.

Dr. Segaran Pillai, director of the Florida Department of Health lab in Miami, said he was told that the letter contained a pamphlet with medical literature. He said tests taken at the lab confirmed the anthrax on Nov. 21.

The Swiss Federal Police Office said the letter was part of a large mailing sent on behalf of a Florida company by the New York branch of the Swiss Post Office.

Swiss Post International Inc. provides worldwide bulk mailing services for companies. Under U.S. rules, letters sent within the country by international post offices must carry a foreign postmark.

The letter sent to Chile bore a postmark from Zurich, Switzerland, but had no date--typical of letters sent by the New York branch, Swiss officials said.

Neither the person who opened the envelope nor 12 others who were nearby have tested positive for exposure to anthrax spores. All were given antibiotics as a precaution, according to Chilean health officials.

Five people in the United States have died of anthrax exposure since last month.

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