U.S. officials say two mail workers in the nation's capital have died from what is suspected to be exposure to anthrax. Another Washington-area postal worker has tested positive for the disease.
Health officials are still waiting for final test results in the deaths of the two men who handled mail headed for the U.S. Capitol, where anthrax-laced letters have been found in the offices of the U.S. Senate. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Monday's deaths appear to be the result of exposure to anthrax. "We are still undergoing final tests to determine absolutely if these two deaths were related to anthrax exposure," Ridge continued. "The cause of death, to date is unclear. But I will tell you what is very clear. It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious and their deaths are likely due to anthrax."
Mr. Ridge met with President Bush Monday to brief him on the ongoing investigation into the spread of anthrax. Two other Washington-area mail workers have tested positive for inhaled anthrax. Both are being treated with antibiotics at local hospitals.
Nine other postal workers have symptoms that could be anthrax-related. In light of the cases now discovered, Washington's chief medical officer Dr. Ivan Walks has ordered preventative treatment for everyone who worked in areas affected at the Brentwood mail facility and another airmail facility near Baltimore-Washington International airport, or BWI. "Currently, with all of the science that we have, all of our highly-suspicious cases and our two, and only two, confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax are folks who worked in the employee work area of the Brentwood Mail Facility, and a result, we are at this time recommending prophylactic treatment for only people who worked at the employee work area of the Brentwood facility and the airmail facility that is near BWI," Dr. Walks said.
Dr. Walks says anyone who was in those affected areas at anytime over the last eleven days should immediately report to DC General Hospital for testing and preventative treatment.
Some postal workers have criticized local officials for not testing them sooner, especially as anthrax-laced mail was first discovered on Capitol Hill last week. Postal officials say they have been following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which decided not to test postal workers until there was evidence of contamination.
Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said health officials throughout the region are working together to protect the public and ensure proper treatment for mail workers exposed to the potentially fatal bacteria. "Our country is a country of great institutions, but these institutions are made-up of real people in real neighborhoods, with real families and lives and hopes and dreams," Williams continued. "That these postal workers are yet another series of workers who in the act of doing their duty are in harms way, and certainly everyone in our city our hearts and our prayers go out to them."
More than 2,000 Washington-area mail workers have been screened for the bacteria. Investigators are trying to figure out whether the Washington cases of anthrax come from the same strain as traces of the disease delivered to media outlets in New York and Florida.