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Today's Health Highlights: Oct. 28, 2001

Another Inhalation Anthrax Case Confirmed Anthrax Vaccine Shipments Await Government Blessing

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

Another N.J. Postal Worker Has Anthrax

U.S. health officials confirmed today 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, the Associated Press reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed it was not a new case of the disease but one that had been listed as suspected anthrax. Lab tests confirmed the diagnosis, officials said.

At least five New Jersey postal workers have suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax. Anthrax-tainted letters sent to Washington, D.C., and New York City originated there, the AP said.

The diagnosis came as tests continued at postal and government offices to determine whether a second anthrax-laden letter as potent as the one sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle earlier this month may have made its way through the postal system in Washington, D.C.

Investigators are pursuing that possibility following the inhalation anthrax contamination last week of a State Department employee who worked far from Daschle's Capitol Hill office, where 29 people were exposed to the potentially fatal disease, The New York Times reported.

Worried that there might be a second anthrax-contaminated letter -- or more -- not yet discovered, the search for the bacteria has widened to thousands of businesses in Washington and 30 mail distribution centers.

The U.S. Postal Service also signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize letters and packages. The equipment will be used first in Washington, where the anthrax scare has spread from mail centers for Congress and the White House to the Supreme Court and the CIA, the AP reported.

And CNN reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has switched to doxycycline as "the antibiotic of choice" for combating anthrax infection. Health officials had been prescribing the drug Cipro, but made the switch because the anthrax strain that has been used in the three-week-old bioterror campaign is sensitive to a wide range of antibiotics. And doxycycline has fewer side effects than Cipro, health officials said.

While no new cases of contamination were reported in Washington this weekend, a suspicious item surfaced yesterday in Florida when a letter on its way to U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens seeped white powder in the local post office. The letter, which was handwritten and had no return address, was sent to an FBI lab in Miami for testing, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, quoting top law enforcement officials, reported yesterday that the anthrax attacks in Washington, New York City and Florida are probably the work of United States extremists with no ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

"Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source. Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation," a senior official was quoted as saying.

Officials with the FBI and CIA are considering many possible suspects, including associates of right-wing hate groups and people in the United States who are sympathetic with extremist Islamic causes, the newspaper said.

U.S. officials say bin Laden was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington.

In other developments, New Jersey health officials yesterday closed the Princeton post office after a single anthrax spore was found in a colony of several types of bacteria on a mail bin. But the 60 to 70 workers there don't need antibiotics because the level of contamination was minuscule, said state Health Commissioner George DiFerdinando, the AP reported.

Also, the AP reported that health officials have ordered anthrax testing at thousands more mail rooms across the Washington area but continue to insist that postal customers had very little risk of contracting the disease.

Concerns over the mail delivery system continue to spread, now that anthrax has been detected at more than 10 postal facilities in the Washington area. Health officials hope to stop its spread with an escalation of testing and treatment, the AP reported.

Officials said they would begin testing between 2,000 and 4,000 sites that receive mail from the Brentwood postal processing facility in Northeast Washington -- including, possibly, large apartment buildings -- and are recommending antibiotics for all who work at them.

Postal workers in New York City have threatened a lawsuit to force the government to close a large processing center where four machines were found to be contaminated with anthrax. The Postal Service plans to seal off the affected machines for decontamination, but says the rest of the building is safe, the AP reported.

The nine-story facility covers two city blocks, employs about 5,000 people and handles all incoming and outgoing mail for Manhattan and the Bronx -- about 20 million pieces a day.

To date, inhalation anthrax has killed three people -- two postal workers at the Brentwood facility in Washington and an editor for a Florida-based publisher of supermarket tabloids.

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Anthrax Vaccine Shipments Await Government Blessing

The federal government is working frantically to give the nation's only anthrax vaccine maker the go-ahead to send fresh batches of the vaccine to American soldiers by next month, HealthDay reports.

But even if Michigan-based Bioport Corp. is shipping the vaccine by Thanksgiving, as company and government officials hope, don't look for it in your local pharmacy.

The company has an exclusive, $29 million contract to supply the U.S. military -- and only the U.S. military. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the vaccine in special cases where people have been exposed to anthrax and are allergic to antibiotics. The FDA has 30 days to respond to the request.

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