Anthrax Now Discovered in Bellmawr P O

by 6 - ABC, Action News | Nov 4, 2001
Anthrax Now Discovered in Bellmawr P O WOODBRIDGE, N.J.: Testing by the FBI found anthrax at the Bellmawr mail distribution center, state health officials said Saturday. It is the third mail facility in New Jersey to test positive for the presence of anthrax.

State health department spokeswoman Laura Otterbourg said one sample out of about a hundred taken was positive.

A 54-year-old male postal employee from Delaware who processes mail at the Bellmawr facility in Camden County has suspected skin anthrax.

Meanwhile, the state's acting health commissioner said Saturday doctors need to be looking for anthrax infection among the general public, now that investigators say a woman contracted the disease after handling mail.

"What this says is maybe you have to think about the possibility of anthrax with all your patients, not just postal staff," Acting Health Commissioner Dr. George T. DiFerdinando said Saturday.

The infection of a 51-year-old accountant, whose mailbox at work was contaminated with anthrax, is another warning to the public, he said. "People should be careful when the handle their mail. We've given recommendations before that people should wash their hands with warm water and soap," DiFerdinando said. "I think it's low risk, but the public should be calm but vigilant," he said.

Top state health officials met with doctors on Saturday for a bioterrorism summit as the medical profession confronts fears that anthrax infections can be spread by tainted mail.

CDC spokeswoman Lisa Swernarki said Saturday that the assumption is that the New Jersey accountant contracted skin anthrax through cross-contamination in the mail.

"We're assuming she got it from handling mail in the office but we're still investigating," she said.

She said investigators have tested all the mail they could find from her home and office and all of it was negative.

"We've never said the risk of handling the mail is zero. It's minimal but it's not zero," she added.

"This is a case where someone in fact did get cutaneous anthrax possibly by handling the mail in her company. You have to put it in context. We're not seeing thousands or hundreds or even dozens of people getting it, despite the fact that people are handling the mail every day."

New Jersey has five confirmed cases of anthrax and two other suspected cases. All but one are postal workers. One of the victims of inhalation anthrax remained hospitalized Friday in good condition.

Nationally, the total number of confirmed cases rose to 17 on Friday. Seven of those are skin anthrax, and 10 are the more dangerous inhalation type.

Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco has asked federal officials to send forensic experts, lab personnel, medical investigators and other staff, all to help track the infection's path from three tainted letters.

State officials plan to test New Jersey's more than 1,000 post offices for anthrax.

Spores have also been found only in Hamilton, the regional mail processing center where the three letters were routed, and in Princeton.

Speaking to assembled doctors on Saturday, DiFerdinando said Sept. 11 showed strengths and weaknesses in the state's response to a major medical emergency.

"We learned that the state is very capable of mobilizing to a mass casualty event," he said, citing the immediate mobilization of ambulances, blood supplies and triage plans.

But there were problems as well.

"We do not communicate well in a tragedy," he said. "We have difficulty putting correct resources in the correct places."

He urged doctors and hospitals to clarify their planned response to a mass medical emergency.

"We need to plan for a sustained event of people streaming into our clinics and hospitals," he said. "If you have influence in your hospitals, that's what you need to do."

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Author: 6 - ABC, Action News

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