Letter Sent to NBC Contained Anthrax
October 14 2001
NEW YORK (AP) -- A threatening letter mailed to Tom Brokaw from New Jersey one week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks contained the anthrax that infected the NBC news anchor's assistant, authorities said Saturday.
In Florida, five more newspaper employees tested positive for exposure to anthrax, but none showed symptoms of infection. And in Nevada, a letter sent to a Microsoft office also tested positive for the bacteria.
A second NBC employee had possible symptoms of anthrax, including a low-grade fever, swollen lymph nodes and a rash, health officials said.
The employee, who was not identified, was taking antibiotics, said Neal Shapiro, the network's news president. ``She's fine,'' he said.
The NBC letter, postmarked Sept. 18 in Trenton, N.J., tested positive for anthrax, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. Initially, authorities believed a Sept. 20 letter sent from Florida might have carried the bacteria.
In Nevada, Gov. Kenny Guinn said a third anthrax test on a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno came back positive, but added that the risk to public health was ``very, very low.''
The anthrax scare began last week when a photo editor for The Sun supermarket tabloid in Boca Raton, Fla., died of the inhaled form of the bacteria, the first anthrax death in the United States in 25 years. The American Media Inc. building where Bob Stevens worked was sealed off after anthrax was found on his keyboard.
Two other employees turned out to have anthrax in their nasal passages, but neither has developed the disease. Both are taking antibiotics, and one has returned to work.
The company was notified Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that five employees had shown antibodies of anthrax in their blood, according to Gerald McKelvey, a spokesman for American Media.
``It means they had an exposure,'' he said. ``It doesn't mean they have anthrax.''
CDC spokeswoman Lisa Swenarski in Atlanta couldn't confirm the five employees had been exposed because testing was not complete. She said it would be another week before final results were in.
``The health department did advise individuals down there on preliminary results, which don't mean a whole lot,'' she said.
None of the five were sick or in the hospital, said Michael Kahane, the company's general counsel.
Health officials had been waiting for results of more than 35 anthrax tests checking employees and visitors to the company's headquarters, which investigators in white moon suits continued to search Saturday. About 20 postal employees who handled the company's mail were also awaiting test results.
On Friday, the FBI agent said test results of 965 people who were in the building recently found no new infections.
Investigators also were searching in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the origin of a letter containing a mysterious powder that made its way to NBC's New York newsroom, where Erin O'Connor, 38, was infected with the less aggressive anthrax of the skin.
It was initially believed that letter, received Sept. 25, could have infected O'Connor, but it subsequently tested negative for anthrax. Authorities said Saturday that the Sept. 18 New Jersey letter had tested positive for the bacteria.
The earlier letter was found at the network's Manhattan headquarters when city police and FBI officials searched the offices, said Barry Mawn, head of the FBI's New York office.
The anonymous letter, which bore no return address, contained an unspecified threat and a brown granular substance, Mawn said. Most of it was thrown away, but the letter -- one of several threatening ones the network received since the attacks -- was retained, he said.
The FBI could not immediately pinpoint where the letter was dropped because Trenton is a regional processing center for southern and central New Jersey, said Special Agent Sandra Carroll, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Newark office.
``There's over 100 different collection boxes or post offices it could have come from,'' Carroll said. FBI agents were interviewing mail carriers in Trenton on Saturday as part of a joint investigation with postal inspectors, she said.
In Florida, the FBI's hazardous materials team also tested various St. Petersburg post offices for anthrax, said Linda Walker, an inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Tampa.
Officials stressed the NBC case was an isolated one. They also said there was no known link to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the far more serious inhaled form that killed the editor in Florida.
Still, spooked New Yorkers scurried to emergency rooms and pharmacies for anthrax tests and prescriptions for the antibiotic Cipro. Some drugstores ran out, or limited the amounts they would sell to customers.
At the Hilltop Pharmacy, a sign warned customers they could get only a five-day supply of 10 Cipro pills.
``We're filling it right now about 75 times more than usual,'' pharmacist Amy Sidney said.
A letter containing powder also was sent to The New York Times, but the newspaper said Saturday that the white substance in the envelope received by reporter Judith Miller -- who co-wrote a recent best seller on bioterrorism -- tested negative for anthrax.
Results from additional tests by the CDC were not expected until Tuesday, Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said.
Miller and about 30 co-workers in the area when the envelope was opened are taking antibiotics, and results of their anthrax tests will be released Monday, the newspaper said.
In Nevada, four Microsoft employees have been tested to date, with the results expected Monday or Tuesday, company spokesman Matt Pilla said.
``If the CDC results are positive for a disease-causing strain, there's still a very low risk for anyone outside the four who had direct contact with the envelope,'' Pilla said.
In Malaysia, federal police spokesman Benjamin Hasbie said authorities had begun investigating the matter, but they are waiting for U.S. intelligence through official channels.
``We realize that this is a serious thing,'' Hasbie told The Associated Press. ``We are looking into this. We can give our fullest cooperation, but we need solid evidence to step up our investigation.''
An envelope with a powdery substance on the outside was found in the mail at CBS News' Washington bureau Saturday. The envelope was turned over to the FBI, and tests were negative for anthrax, CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said.
© 2001 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.