New anthrax case reported in NBC employee in New York; FBI sees 'no connection' to attacks

Friday, October 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ An NBC News employee in New York has the skin form of anthrax in a case that was detected in tests done after the network received mail containing a suspicious powder, authorities said Friday.

The anthrax was not the inhaled form of the disease, which killed a Florida man a week ago. The female employee instead has a skin infection and is expected to recover, the network said.

Barry Mawn, head of the FBI office in New York, said authorities ``see no connection whatsoever'' to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. ``It's a separate criminal matter,'' he said.

The FBI is checking to see if there is a link to the Florida anthrax case, but ``preliminarily I do not see that,'' Mawn said.

When caught through the skin, anthrax is a much less serious disease than the inhaled form. The first symptoms are reddish-black sores on the exposed skin. If the disease is caught at that point and treated with antibiotics it is easily cured. Even without treatment, cutaneous anthrax is fatal in only one case out of four.

In Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said President Bush has been informed of the latest incident. Asked if there was any evidence that the case was linked to terrorism, Thompson said: ``We have no proof whatsoever.''

NBC President Andrew Lack said the woman works on ``Nightly News,'' but did not identify her. NBC officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the woman was an assistant to ``Nightly News'' anchorman Tom Brokaw.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said tests would be done at the NBC offices in Rockefeller Center. The third floor and one or two other parts of the 70-story GE Building were sealed off for federal health investigators.

All employees exposed to the powder will be tested for anthrax and treated with the antibiotic Cipro, the mayor said.

``People should not overreact to this,'' Giuliani said. ``Much of this is being done to allay people's fears.''

The mayor also said The New York Times had received a letter containing a powdery substance at its headquarters near Times Square. He said the substance was being tested.

Times spokeswoman Kathy Park confirmed the unspecified threat at the office. ``No one has been hurt or (is) under immediate danger,'' she said.

The mayor said the NBC case dates to perhaps Sept. 25, two weeks after the attacks. The woman has been treated with Cipro since Oct. 1.

The network said it immediately contacted the FBI, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York Department of Health after receiving the mail.

``The mail was tested by these organizations, and the employee was treated by several physicians. All these tests came back negative,'' NBC said Friday. ``However, this morning, a later test on the employee came back positive for traces of cutaneous anthrax.''

The Associated Press, located across the street from NBC, temporarily closed mailroom operations. CBS also said it has shut down its New York mailroom as a precaution and is not accepting any new mail. ABC said it halted all internal mail deliver in New York and Washington pending a security evaulation.

NBC's disclosure comes a week after a photo editor for The Sun supermarket tabloid in Boca Raton, Fla., died of the more serious inhaled form of anthrax. The American Media Inc. building where several supermarket tabloids are published was sealed off after anthrax was found on the keyboard of the editor, Bob Stevens, 63.

Traces of anthrax were later found in the mailroom where two other American Media workers, Ernesto Blanco and Stephanie Dailey, both worked, a law enforcement official said Thursday. Both tested positive for exposure to anthrax, but neither developed the disease. Both are taking antibiotics and Dailey has even returned to work.

Anthrax bacteria live in the blood of animals. When an animal dies, the bacteria form spores, which are released.

Skin anthrax and inhaled anthrax are caused by the same germ. The difference depends on how it gets into the body, whether through the lungs or through a break in the skin.

About 95 percent of all cases of anthrax worldwide result from skin contact with infected animals or tissue, and ranchers and animal handlers are sometimes at risk.

The infection can be cured with a variety of antibiotics, including penicillin and Cipro. When left untreated, about 20 percent of patients die.

Cutaneous anthrax often begins with a bump on the hands, arms or head that eventually turns into a sore. More severe symptoms may follow, including fever, swelling and headache.

Inhalation anthrax is far more serious.

The only vaccine to prevent anthrax is in limited supply and is now only available to the military.