Washington The Centers for Disease Control and prevention confirmed Sunday that a female New Jersey postal worker has inhalation anthrax, the most serious form of the disease that has claimed three lives and prompted thousands to take antibiotics.
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner stressed it was not a new case of the disease but one that had been listed as suspected anthrax. Lab tests confirmed the diagnosis, he said.
At least five New Jersey postal workers have suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax. Anthrax-tainted letters sent to Washington and New York originated there.
The diagnosis came as tests continued at postal and government offices in the nation's capital and elsewhere. Officials were seeking to determine whether other tainted letters are in the mail system
Thousands of postal workers and others who dealt with large amounts of mail were being urged to take preventive antibiotics.
"There may be other letters that are stuck in the system," White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said on "Fox News Sunday." We're asking people to be very careful."
Deputy Postmaster General John M. Nolan said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that there are many suppositions among investigators about more letters, "but I don't have any way of knowing."
Despite the strain on the system, postal vice president Deborah Willhite vowed the mail will go through.
"We're coming up to the first of the month and a lot of people are very dependent upon the movement of mail, receiving and sending of financial instruments is a vital public service," she said. "The Postal Service will rise to that duty."
Dr. Ivan Walks, Washington's public health director, said no new anthrax had been in the city found since contamination was discovered Friday at a Supreme Court mail-handling facility.
To disseminate the growing volume of information on anthrax, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge will begin briefing reporters at least three times a week, and more likely every day, Bush administration officials said Sunday.
There have been 13 confirmed cases of anthrax in the outbreak, including eight inhaled versions of the disease. Five people in New York and New Jersey are being treated for the less dangerous skin form of anthrax and a few other cases are suspected.
On Capitol Hill, the Hart Senate Office Building was to remain closed Monday but the garage it shares with the adjacent Dirksen building was scheduled to reopen along with other Senate offices. On the House side, the Ford and Longworth office buildings were closed thorough the weekend. Whether they would reopen Monday was unclear.
The Hart building is home to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who received a letter containing a highly potent form of anthrax three weeks ago, marking the start of the anthrax scare in the nation's capital
Since then two postal employees from a facility that processed the letter have died. Two others, as well as a State Department mailroom worker, have been hospitalized with the inhaled form of the disease. All three remained in serious condition Sunday.
More than 10,000 people who may have been exposed to the bacteria have been urged to begin taking antibiotics as a precaution.
Walks and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said doxycycline was being recommended because it has fewer side effects that Cipro, which had been prescribed at first. Willhite said postal workers were being switched to doxycycline at the suggestion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fauci said tests on the anthrax show it can be treated with the less costly and more available doxycycline so that drug is now being recommended for people who deal with large volumes of mail, including workers in private mailrooms.
Willhite also said the post office is investigating technology not only to sanitize the mail but also to detect biological agents.
There are devices that can detect contamination and postal engineers are working with the Defense Department on how that equipment can be used by the mail, she said.
"The Postal Service will do whatever it takes to continue to serve the American people," she said. "The Postal Service is not optional."
On Friday, the post office signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize letters and packages. The equipment will be used first in the nation's capital.
Some 68 tons of mail is being trucked from the capital to a plant in Lima, Ohio, to be decontaminated with electron beams normally used to sterilize hospital equipment.