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Anthrax found at Justice Dept. mail site

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Anthrax has been found at a facility in suburban Landover, Maryland, that handles mail for the Justice Department, department officials said Sunday night. Several areas within the Landover facility, including the area where Attorney General John Ashcroft's mail is handled, revealed traces of anthrax, according to department spokeswoman Susan Dryden.

As a result, the mailroom in the basement of the main Justice Department building in central Washington has been closed, they said. Mailrooms within the Justice Department have been tested for anthrax and the results are expected by Tuesday.

Mail delivery from Landover to the main Justice Department building was halted several days ago, pending those results. Federal officials contacted Justice Department employees who handle mail or who come in frequent contact with mail facilities and asked them to report to District of Columbia General Hospital on Monday to get a 10-day supply of antibiotics.

The Landover facility is a central distribution center for many Justice Department agencies, but it does not handle the mail for the FBI. Mail is first processed at the Brentwood mail center in the District of Columbia, which is now closed, before being sent to Landover. Two mail handlers who worked at Brentwood have died.

Earlier Sunday, the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a third New Jersey postal worker had contracted inhalation anthrax -- the more serious form of the disease that has claimed three lives in the past month. CDC officials said the postal employee worked at the Hamilton Township processing center, which tested positive for the bacteria in its nonpublic areas. The hospitalized worker's condition was improving, state health officials said.

Two other New Jersey postal workers have cutaneous anthrax, a less serious form of the disease that affects the skin. Another Hamilton Township center postal worker with a suspected case of the inhalation form of the illness continued to improve on antibiotics after being discharged from a hospital.

The announcement now raises the number of confirmed cases of anthrax exposure to 13 -- eight cases of inhalation anthrax and five cutaneous cases. Authorities suspect five others may be infected, too.Thirty-two people have been exposed.

Latest developments

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge will soon take over anthrax briefings with the press, a senior administration official said Sunday. The briefings will raise Ridge's profile, and may answer critics who have said the White House has not been forthcoming with its anthrax findings. The White House recognizes that the administration needs to do a better job coordinating information flow, the official said. (Full story)

In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court will convene outside its historic courtroom Monday for the first time since the high court's building was erected in 1935. Justices are awaiting results of anthrax testing in the high court's building, and will borrow the District of Columbia Circuit's ceremonialcourtroom at the federal court building four blocks away.

Washington health officials have switched to doxycycline as the antibiotic of choice for combating anthrax infection. Authorities initially prescribed ciprofloxacin, manufactured under the name Cipro. CDC sources say they want to achieve a better balance in the types of antibiotics used. Using a single antibiotic for extended periods of time can increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance. Also, doxycycline is cheaper than Cipro and more plentiful. (Full story)

U.S. officials say that the Daschle letter likely contaminated some Washington-area mail facilities, although the discovery of anthrax spores at the State Department led investigators to a new "working hypothesis," sources tell CNN."We are exploring cross-contamination or another piece of mail," Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said.

Cross-contamination alone could not be making people as sick as they are, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sources said, and the State Department employee did not visit Daschle's office or Washington's main mail-processing facility, Brentwood.

Investigators have not ruled out any possible source of anthrax, a Bush administration official said Saturday. The comments came in response to a Washington Post report saying that U.S. officials now believe the anthrax attacks came from a domestic source and were not connected to the al Qaeda terrorist network. (Full story)

The New York Medical Examiner's office decided to re-evaluate the death of a postal worker earlier this month as a "precautionary measure," looking to see if it was anthrax-related.

Anthrax cultures were discovered in four mail-sorting machines inside Manhattan's largest mail-distribution center. The worker, Laura Jones, died on October 10 of what was then deemed natural causes.

Mailroom workers in "several thousand" Washington businesses have been asked to come in for tests to determine if they have been exposed to the anthrax bacteria, Washington's chief health officer, Dr. Ivan Walks, told CNN Saturday. Walks said that more than 10,000 people been tested, and the number "will get profoundly larger."

-- Swissrose (, October 29, 2001

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