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Fleischer: No Hard Evidence on Anthrax Deaths - 2001-10-23


U.S. officials say they do not know who is behind anthrax attacks that killed two Washington postal workers this week.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says there is no hard evidence linking the anthrax deaths with the terrorist attacks of September 11. "There is a suspicion that this is connected to international terrorists," he said. "Having said that, investigators also do not rule out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone person operating doing this, or it could be terrorism. The suspicion is that it is terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this point to lead anybody who is investigating these matters to reach a conclusion on any of these sources."

Two Washington postal workers have died from exposure to anthrax. Two more have tested positive to the bacteria and are being treated with antibiotics. Health officials say nine other postal workers have symptoms that could be anthrax-related. All worked around mail headed for Capitol Hill.

Some post office employees 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 were following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which decided not to test postal workers until there was evidence of contamination.

Mr. Fleischer says treating everyone who may have come in contact with the affected mail could cause more problems by making it harder to treat them in the future if they do become infected. "For people who have no contact with anything involving anthrax, providing antibiotics can actually have a harmful effect," said Ari Fleischer. "It can lead to a build up of an immune system that can be counter-productive in case people do later contract an illness. Providing people with antibiotics for problems, which have not occured, can lead to more problems than solutions."

Mr. Fleischer said the government is sending a post card to all U.S. residences and businesses advising them about what to look out for in a suspicious letter or package. He says the post office is also reviewing what kinds of gloves might best protect workers from infection in the future.