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Investigators Make Little Headway in Anthrax Probe

The nation's top law enforcement official says investigators are working hard to find out who is behind the anthrax attacks in the United States, but have made little progress so far.

With Americans increasingly concerned about the anthrax threat, Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters in Washington Wednesday that there is nothing new to report about the source of the anthrax despite an intensive ongoing investigation. "And we are working very hard to try and locate the source and determine ways of preventing additional problems and threats associated with it," he said. "But I am not in a position to be able to say to you that we are on the brink of making an announcement here. We don't have progress to report at this time."

The Ashcroft comments came just hours after authorities in New York confirmed the death of a hospital worker infected with inhaled anthrax. But this case is mystifying public health experts because the victim did not have links to any of the earlier anthrax cases involving government agencies, the news media and the postal system.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health, told NBC television that public health officials need to move quickly to discover the source of the anthrax that killed the woman in New York. "But to have a situation where she gets inhalation anthrax and no evidence thus far within the place that she works of there being anthrax that you would surmise might be able to give you inhalation anthrax, makes this a very puzzling mystery," he said. "So all bets are off and we really need the public health officials, the forensic group, have to do a real full court press to track this down. This is critical."

The victim, Kathy Nguyen, had been too sick to help investigators trying to find the source of her infection.

Her case has raised fears that letters containing anthrax are contaminating other mail moving through the postal system on a far larger scale than previously believed.

A top postal official told Congress Wednesday that several billion dollars will be needed to safeguard the nation's mail system.