WASHINGTON — The tally of confirmed anthrax victims grew to six Thursday, including a postal worker who may have handled contaminated letters, as authorities offered a $1-million reward for information about the bioterrorists who have sent bacteria-laden envelopes to three cities.
The two new infections were confirmed in an assistant to CBS News anchor Dan Rather in New York and an unidentified postal worker near Trenton, N.J. The reported number of people exposed to the bacteria increased slightly, from 40 to 43. Health officials also said they were investigating at least three additional anthrax cases they declined to identify.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 24, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 14 words Type of Material: Correction
Anthrax--A story Friday mischaracterized anthrax. It is a spore-forming bacteria, not a virus.
In Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a rare warning: Doctors nationwide should watch for cases of smallpox, food poisoning and deadly viruses like Ebola. Federal health officials also confirmed that they are considering calling for a mass vaccination for smallpox, a highly contagious virus that can spread rapidly from person to person.
In the Trenton area, where at least two of the anthrax letters were mailed, health officials were trying to determine whether the infection of a postal worker indicated that others who handle the mail may have been exposed to the bacteria. Another postal employee may also be infected and is under a doctor's care, officials said.
FBI investigators in the region were questioning pharmacists about any unusual requests for the antibiotic Cipro before Sept. 18, the postmark date on the anthrax letter sent to NBC TV news anchor Tom Brokaw.
Dr. Julie Gerberding said that the CDC had sent three dozen epidemiologists to Washington, New York and Florida to investigate and manage the response to the anthrax attacks and that more than 50 scientists in Atlanta were working around the clock to process specimens.
She said it was too early to tell if the strain of anthrax found on Capitol Hill was the same as that found in Florida and New York, or if it was a different or more virulent kind.
"There are degrees of similarity, and the more time we have to . . . characterize the strains, the more we can work to refine our understanding of how similar two strains really are," she said.
Law enforcement authorities conceded that they were not close to arresting anyone who may have sent anthrax-contaminated letters to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and journalists in Florida and New York.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller said the $1-million bounty was prompted, in part, by their inability to quickly identify where the anthrax came from, who had mailed it and why, and whether the mailings were linked in any way to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The Bush administration sought to begin the day on a reassuring note, assembling its new director of homeland security, Thomas J. Ridge, and top health and law enforcement officials on one stage for the first time since anthrax contaminations wrested the public's attention away from the terrorist attacks.
For more than an hour, the nine top-ranking officials summed up what is known to date, particularly about the anthrax contamination on Capitol Hill.
Through Wednesday, they said, four people had contracted anthrax; two with cutaneous, or skin, anthrax, and two others with the more serious inhalation anthrax. One of those men, American Media Inc. employee Robert Stevens in Florida, died Oct. 5; the other remains hospitalized. Only 31 people had been exposed to anthrax in Washington, they said, and thousands more had been tested and found to have not been exposed to the virus.
Surgeon General David Satcher said all of those exposed and infected were being treated with antibiotics and were expected to fully recover.
Ridge, who had been criticized for keeping a low profile during his first nine days on the job, promised to continue to provide updates on the anthrax scare and terrorist threats.
"The greatest fear," Ridge told reporters and a live TV audience, "is the fear of the unknown."
Bush administration officials later said that they ordered the marathon briefing because politicians, health officials and law enforcement authorities had done little a day earlier to ease anxieties, and in fact may have heightened concerns by providing false and conflicting information about anthrax contamination on Capitol Hill.
"You didn't have a central voice," Ridge acknowledged at a second news conference Thursday. "The decision was made to try and encapsulate the information, get it out and have regular conferences."
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives remained shut down and many offices were closed for anthrax testing. Health officials reported no new cases of exposure to anthrax there, and said there was no conclusive evidence of contamination in the ventilation system of the Hart Senate Office Building, which houses Daschle's office several blocks from the Capitol.