WASHINGTON, Oct 24: The top US postal official told Americans on Wednesday there was no guarantee that their mail was safe from anthrax and they should wash their hands after handling it.

“We’re telling people that there is a threat — that right now the threat is in the mail,” Postmaster General John Potter said during a round of morning television appearances. “There are no guarantees that mail is safe.”

Three people have died of anthrax and at least nine others have been infected from letters sent through the mail since the United States struck Afghanistan in a war against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In a separate interview, Surgeon General David Satcher, the top US health official, called on the public to be on high alert against possible germ warfare.

“We’ve never been through a bioterrorist attack before,” he said on the NBC “Today” program. “We certainly have never experienced people being infected (by) anthrax in a closed envelop.”

He added: “I don’t think yet we’re beyond our capability (to cope), but I think we have to continue to strengthen that capability.” Congress can fund more laboratory workers, for instance, he said.

Satcher and Potter were dealing with the possibility that even unopened mail could pick up anthrax spores if the equipment on which they were sorted had been contaminated, though Potter said the chances were remote.

The Postal Service was giving employees masks to protect against any airborne spores and was introducing gloves in the workplace.

Large parts of the US Capitol were closed temporarily after a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office spilled anthrax spores and many cases have been found at the main Washington sorting office that earlier handled the Daschle letter. Other cases have been found in New York, New Jersey and Florida.

Workers at the Brentwood mail facility, which delivers mail to the Capitol, have been hardest hit by the crisis. Two have died from anthrax inhalation and two remain hospitalized in serious condition. Six others are suspected of having the disease, health officials said on Wednesday.—Reuters

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