Washington Two postal workers at a site that handles mail for the Capitol died Monday, apparently from anthrax, officials said, and two more remained hospitalized with the life-threatening disease as the nation's bioterror casualty count mounted.
Health officials expressed concern about as many as nine other area people who have exhibited symptoms consistent with the disease. The officials issued an urgent appeal for hundreds more postal workers at the facility to undergo testing.
"Anyone who was working in that back postal area during the last 11 days, you must today immediately come here ... to receive prophylactic medication and to be evaluated," said Dr. Ivan Walks, a Washington, D.C., health official. About 2,000 employees work at the Brentwood facility, and many had already submitted to tests or lined up to comply.
Shortly after he spoke, Surgeon General David Satcher said it was "highly probable" that the two postal workers who died over the weekend had succumbed to anthrax.
The disclosures came as Congress struggled to return to normal after the discovery of an anthrax-laced letter last week in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The Capitol itself was reopened after weekend testing, with the House and Senate expected to meet on Tuesday.
The sprawling office buildings on both sides of Capitol Hill remained closed for additional testing, and officials said at least some of those structures would remain shut down until Wednesday at the earliest. Two sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said House leaders were trying to arrange for alternative office space for lawmakers and staff unable return to work.
"The Capitol of course has been safe and we have ample reason to believe that within the next few days we'll be able to open up the other buildings as well," said Daschle, D-S.D.
Nearly six weeks after the terrorist airliner attacks that killed thousands in New York and Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would use money from the federal Superfund program to help decontaminate the American Media Inc. headquarters building in Boca Raton, Fla. One employee of the tabloid publishing firm died of the inhalation form of the disease more than two weeks ago, and a co-worker is hospitalized undergoing treatment.
In New Jersey, the FBI sought the source of least three anthrax-tainted letters that went through a mail facility in the Trenton area. The three included the letter delivered to Daschle's office, as well one sent to NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw and another one that turned up at The New York Post.
Nearly three weeks into the nation's bioterrorism scare, the roster of anthrax victims stood at:
One confirmed death of inhalation anthrax, the Florida tabloid employee, and two other fatal cases in which the disease is believed involved.
Three other cases of inhalation anthrax, the two postal workers hospitalized in suburban Virginia and a newspaper mailroom employee in Florida;
Six confirmed cases of the less dangerous skin form of the disease, including two who worked at the postal facilities in the Trenton, N.J. area. The other victims have connections to the national news media, including NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Post.
Twenty-eight confirmed cases of anthrax exposure in the Capitol complex, following the delivery of the letter to Daschle's office. They include two Capitol police officers; two aides to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and the balance employed by Daschle.
Beyond that, investigators seemed to be discovering a trail of anthrax spores in Washington from the city's Brentwood mail facility, to a Capitol Hill central mail processing site about a mile from the Capitol, and from there to the House and Senate central mailrooms.
There, anthrax has been found on two mail-processing machines one of them known to have handled the letter that was sent to Daschle. Authorities have not yet announced finding any other tainted letter meaning they haven't yet accounted for the presence of spores in the facility that handles mail for House members.
No mail has been delivered to any congressional office since the letter to Daschle was opened a week ago.
Congressional officials have been far less forthcoming with information than local officials in Washington, where Walks stepped before microphones to announce a dramatic increase in the number of known and suspected cases of inhalation anthrax, a disease last seen in the United States in 1978.
Authorities had disclosed over the weekend that Leroy Richmond, a 57-year-old worker at the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, was diagnosed with the inhalation form of anthrax.
In addition, Walks said a second Brentwood employee, whose identity he did not disclose, had been diagnosed as suffering from the same illness, and is undergoing treatment at the same hospital in suburban Virginia as Richmond.
Beyond that, he said, the two other employees from the same facility had died of symptoms that raised suspicions of anthrax. He did not identify them.
Less than two hours later, Satcher said on CNN, "It does seem highly probable that those two deaths were related to inhalation anthrax."
Inhalation anthrax can look like the flu at first, health officials emphasize, and is curable only if antibiotics are begun early in its course.
Walks provided no additional information about the details of the other confirmed or suspected cases.