MIAMI, Oct 14: Raising new concerns about biological warfare in the United States, five more employees of a Florida supermarket tabloid publisher have tested positive for anthrax exposure, a company spokesman said on Sunday.
The new cases brought to eight the number of workers at American Media Inc, the Boca Raton-based publisher of the National Enquirer, Globe and other sex-and-scandal supermarket tabloids, to have been exposed to the deadly disease, which is considered a possible bioterror agent.
“Health authorities have advised that five others have been exposed,” American Media spokesman Gerald McKelvey said. “They are all fine. They have been reporting to work. They are taking their medication.”
Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at American Media’s Sun tabloid, died on Oct 5 from anthrax.
Two other American Media employees, Ernesto Blanco and Stephanie Daley, both mail room workers, previously tested positive for exposure. Neither they nor the five new people exposed have fallen ill.
Stevens is the only known fatality despite growing concerns that the United States has come under biological attack following the Sept. 11 airborne assaults on New York and Washington that killed nearly 5,400 people.
US authorities have confirmed the presence of anthrax, a bacterial disease spread by spores and generally confined to sheep, cattle, horses, goats and pigs, in three states — Florida, New York and Nevada.
Fears of biological warfare grew on Friday when New York officials said that Erin O’Connor, an assistant to NBC television news anchor Tom Brokaw, tested positive for skin anthrax.
A second NBC employee has possible symptoms of anthrax, NBC radio reported on Saturday, including a low grade fever, swollen lymph nodes and a rash.
The skin anthrax afflicting O’Connor was not as dangerous as the inhaled version that killed Stevens, health authorities said.
Nevada officials said an envelope mailed from Malaysia to a Reno, Nevada branch of software giant Microsoft Corp. also tested positive for anthrax. Malaysia on Sunday offered full support for an investigation into the incident.
The growing number of anthrax cases had Americans on the sharp edge of fear. US authorities are on high alert for more assaults as US and British military operations continued in Afghanistan.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said on Sunday that terrorism could be responsible for the anthrax exposures but that it was not necessarily carried out by the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, the Islamic militant who is believed to be behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if he suspected terrorists were behind the anthrax cases, Thompson replied: “What do I suspect? You’ve got to suspect that it’s possible.”
He said sending anthrax bacteria through the mail would “definitely” be terrorism, but added that al Qaeda would not necessarily be to blame. Thompson said it could be carried out by someone with a grudge.
“We have no imminent threats of any chemical or biological attack at this time in America,” he said. —Reuters