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Spores Discovered at Pentagon Rental Boxes at Post Office Branch Found To Contain Anthrax

By Carol Morello and Rick Weiss
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Anthrax spores have been found at a small branch of the U.S. Post Office in the Pentagon, officials said today, and preventive antibiotics are being offered to more than 200 people who rent boxes there.

The bacteria was found in two rental boxes, one used by a member of the Navy and the other unassigned, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took 17 samples from the post office on Tuesday and alerted the Pentagon on Saturday that two samples had tested positive.

The post office, which is separate from the Pentagon's own mailroom and does not process Defense Department mail, is located beside several shops in a commercial concourse leading to the Metro rail station. It was tested because it receives its mail directly from the Brentwood Road mail processing facility in Northeast Washington, where anthrax spores were initially discovered last month.

In New Jersey, a U.S. Postal Service employee who had contracted the dangerous inhaled anthrax, was released from the hospital.

Norma Wallace, 56, is employed at the Trenton post office's regional distribution center in Hamilton, N.J., that processed several letters later found to contain anthrax spores.

Funeral services also were held in New York today for Kathy T. Nguyen, a 61-year-old hospital worker who died last Wednesday after mysteriously contracting inhaled anthrax. She was the fourth person to die from the disease since the outbreak began last month.

Speaking to reporters during a telephone briefing today, Bradley Perkins of the CDC said that the cause of Nguyen's inhalation anthrax remains unexplained. He said the working hypothesis among CDC investigators is that Nguyen had direct exposure to a large dose of spores and that she did not succumb to the disease merely as a result of coming into contact with a piece of mail cross-contaminated from another spore-laden letter somewhere in the mail system.

"The level of contamination we'd expect from cross-contamination may be sufficient to cause cutaneous [skin] disease, but at this point we do not have any evidence that that kind of contamination would be sufficient to cause inhalational anthrax," Perkins said.