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Postal Worker, Dan Rather’s Assistant Become Most Recent Anthrax Victims

By John Lancaster

and Helen Dewar
THE WASHINGTON POST -- A New Jersey postal worker and an assistant to CBS News anchor Dan Rather have contracted the skin form of anthrax, bringing to six the number of people known to have been infected by the bacterium in a series of bioterrorist attacks, federal health authorities said Thursday.

The news came as congressional leaders and the Bush administration after several days of confusion and mixed messages launched a broad campaign to contain public anxiety about the mysterious anthrax-contaminated letters sent to media outlets in New York and apparently Florida as well as the Capitol office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Thursday night, a second New Jersey postal worker also was reported to show symptoms of skin anthrax, which would bring the total number of known infections to seven. Federal health officials also said they are investigating several other possible cases of anthrax linked to New York and Florida.

In Washington, where the House and three Senate office buildings have been closed since Wednesday afternoon, officials announced with evident relief that the number of people who show evidence of exposure to anthrax, which does not mean they will fall ill, has not increased from the 31 congressional and law enforcement personnel who had previously been identified.

They said, however, that anyone who spent time Monday on the fifth or sixth floor of the Hart Building’s southeast quadrant, near Daschle’s fifth-floor office, should take the antibiotic Cipro for the next two months as a precaution.

Since the anthrax was discovered Monday, about 3,000 people, some of whom were nowhere near the Hart building that day, have lined up for nasal swabs that can determine the presence of anthrax spores, though not actual infection. As of Thursday afternoon, results were in for 878 tests, all of them negative, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that no further medical screening is required for those who were outside the so-called exposure zone near Daschle’s office.

“I’m very upbeat, very optimistic,” Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Senate’s only physician, told reporters at an afternoon briefing with federal health officials. “People are working together in a harmonious, almost symphonic way.”

But containing the anthrax scare proved easier said than done amid a spate of new reports, most of them false alarms and hoaxes, but all of them taken seriously in the new climate of vigilance.

The story took an international turn Thursday when health authorities in Kenya disclosed that a letter mailed from Atlanta to a private home in Nairobi tested positive for anthrax, the first confirmed foreign case since the Sept. 11 attacks.