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Daschle's Office Staff Test Positive for Anthrax

About 20 people in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office have tested positive for exposure to anthrax, sources told CNN on Wednesday.

But FBI officials cautioned that the tests, performed after a letter containing a particularly virulent form of anthrax was delivered to Daschle's office, often yield false positives. Daschle's office, and those of 11 other senators in the Hart Senate Office Building, remain closed while investigators search for more signs of the bacteria.

House members will shut down their offices for a complete security sweep, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said. "We think its prudent to make sure that this building and our offices are environmentally safe," Hastert said. "We will be back to work on Tuesday."

The letter mailed to Daschle's office contained "a very potent form" of the bacteria, the senator said Tuesday.

A government source told CNN the anthrax was "high grade, very virulent and sophisticated."

"Clearly, they were trying to kill somebody," Daschle, D-South Dakota, told CNN. "What this says to me is that there is an orchestrated effort under way, and that it may hit again. So we need to be ready for it."

Anthrax has been found in letters sent to NBC News and Daschle, and at the Florida headquarters of a tabloid newspaper whose photo editor is the only victim so far to die.

A federal official told CNN that investigators may be looking at two separate sources in the anthrax attacks in Florida and New York.

"It appears we're looking at two situations," that official said.

Investigators said the letter to Daschle's office was similar to the anthrax-contaminated letter sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw in New York.

One law enforcement source said both letters contained references to Allah, the Arabic word for God. The NBC letter also contained threatening language toward the United States and Israel. This source did not confirm whether that language was in the Daschle letter, only that it mirrored the NBC note.

Latest developments

  • Anthrax spores have been found in the ventilation system of the Senate building, Hastert said Wednesday.
  • Richard Butler, the U.N.'s former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, said in an interview with CNN's Paula Zahn that the size of the particles in the Daschle sample was "very small," making it easier to infect humans with the inhalation variety of the bacteria.
  • A few dozen workers at USA Today's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, were evacuated after a reporter received what she thought was a suspicious envelope. A spokesman for the company said the woman thought she saw a powdery substance after she opened a corner of the envelope. The envelope was sent to the FBI for tests. Results are expected Wednesday.
  • Parts of eight floors of the Hart Senate Office Building were closed Tuesday to search for anthrax after tests confirmed the letter opened Monday in Daschle's office contained the potentially deadly bacteria.
  • Offices on the southeast corner of the building between the first and eighth floors were closed for the search, the Capitol physician said.
  • Two men have been indicted on federal charges of making false anthrax threats. Both men are from Connecticut, but authorities said there was no apparent connection. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday that hoaxes prompted by the anthrax scare will be dealt with strongly.
  • U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D- New York, said Tuesday a generic version of ciproflaxin, the antibiotic used to treat anthrax, should be made available immediately for government use even though German drugmaker BayerAG holds the patent for the drug. In response, Bayer promised to increase production and make 200 million tablets over the next three months, officials said.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that Ernesto Blanco, a mailroom employee at Boca Raton, Florida, tabloid publisher American Media Inc., was diagnosed with "anthrax disease." Florida health officials insisted more tests were needed for a final diagnosis. Blanco, 73, was a co-worker of Robert Stevens, a photo editor at The Sun, who died of anthrax. A third employee has tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.
  • An American Media spokeswoman said the company would sell its Boca Raton facility and would not reopen in that building because many employees are concerned about returning to work there.
  • Two postal employees near Trenton, New Jersey, have been tested for anthrax after investigators traced anthrax-tainted letters from New York and Washington to a post office sorting facility, sources told CNN Tuesday. Investigators also found traces of anthrax spores at the Boca Raton post office. More than 30 employees there were tested for anthrax, and their tests were all negative.
  • In New York, the 7-month-old child of an ABC news producer tested positive for the cutaneous (skin) version of the disease. The boy is expected to make a full recovery. The infant had visited ABC with a parent September 28.
  • The CDC said Monday that a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, tested negative for anthrax spores at a laboratory in Nevada. Earlier tests had come back positive for anthrax, but health officials had already said the six people who handled the letter were not exposed. Further tests are planned at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, to determine definitively whether the letter contains anthrax.
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