WASHINGTON – Federal officials were combing the Capitol Hill offices of Maryland’s senators for anthrax Tuesday, two of 12 offices that were closed after tests confirmed that the bacteria was sent to the Senate Majority Leader’s office.
Senators and staff members who work in the affected area were offered testing for anthrax exposure in a hearing room and were given temporary supplies of antibiotics to take until they know the test results.
“I think there is a little uneasiness, but for the most part people are pretty are calm and confident in the Capitol Police and the physicians,” said Amy Hagovsky, a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore.
“Senator Mikulski has been in touch with the people here on the Hill, and she is trying to stay abreast of what is going on and what security measures are being taken,” Hagovsky said.
She said both she and Mikulski took advantage of the testing offered Tuesday. Aides to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, could not say whether he has been tested.
Sarbanes’ third-floor office and Mikulski’s seventh-floor office are in the same quadrant of the Hart Building as the fifth-floor office of Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-N.D., who received an anthrax-laced letter Monday.
U.S. Capitol Police said they closed offices of senators and some support committees in that quadrant of the building to make sure anthrax spores had not traveled through the ventilation system. Lt. Dan Nichols, a Capitol Police spokesman, said it was not clear whether the offices would reopen Wednesday.
“This is something we had been prepared for and trained for,” Nichols said. He said the response from staff members has been “very calm and businesslike.”
Two field tests of the substance found in the letter to Daschle’s office produced positive results for anthrax Monday, Nichols said, and those tests were confirmed by testing at Fort Detrick between Monday and Tuesday.
Fliers distributed Tuesday morning announced the office closings.
“I found out our office was closed when I was walking in this morning,” said Jesse Jacobs, spokesman for Sarbanes.
Some staff worked from committee offices on Capitol Hill, while others went home for the day. Hagovsky said constituents could reach Mikulski through her district offices.
Jacobs said Sarbanes’ office had implemented a nnew mail opening procedure on Monday, before the Daschle incident. The new procedure requires that a senior staff member review all mail and that anyone opening mail wear gloves. Any suspicious mail is to be reported to Capitol Police, and international mail is set aside and evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“We run these risks every day, but we just need to remain extremely cautious,” Jacobs said.
But no mail was sorted at congressional offices Tuesday. Mail delivery has been suspended for all buildings, Nichols said, and police are reviewing mail system procedures and policies before delivery resumes.
Anthrax can occur in two forms: cutaneous, which lays on the skin, and pulmonary, which is inhaled. Both forms can be treated with common antibiotics if detected early.
Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax include skin ulcers and usually fever and fatigue. The far more serious pulmonary anthrax may look like the flu at first, with symptoms including sore throat, muscle aches and mild fever, but if left untreated, it can lead to severe respiratory problems, shock and often meningitis.
Without treatment, pulmonary anthrax is almost always fatal. Neither form of anthrax is contagious.
The Centers for Disease Control has reported one confirmed case of anthrax exposure in Florida and two cases of the disease, one of which was fatal. The CDC also reported two cases and three exposures in New York.
The first case of anthrax was reported Oct. 4 in Florida. Tabloid photographer Robert Stevens, 63, died from pulmonary anthrax the following day, and a co-worker, Ernesto Blanco, 73, tested positive for pulmonary anthrax. Blanco is receiving antibiotics and officials expect him to make a full recovery.
At NBC News in New York, where an anthrax-positive letter was found Friday, an assistant to network anchor Tom Brokaw has been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. The 7-month-old baby of an ABC producer has also been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. Both are receiving treatment.
A small amount of anthrax spores was also detected at a post office in Boca Raton, Fla.