Anthrax anxiety took a new turn today after 31 people at the US Capitol tested positive for exposure to anthrax bacteria.
This does not mean they have the disease.
But the side effects are showing up on Capitol Hill. For the first time ever, the House closed for business over health concerns. And the Senate will conduct business in other Washington locations.
Lines of congressional staffers being tested for anthrax got longer and work at the Capitol virtually stopped with the disclosure that dozens of Senate aides and Capitol police had tested positive to anthrax exposure.
Most of the exposed staffers work for Majority Leader Daschle but he said the early diagnosis is they'll be alright.
Daschle said, "There is a huge difference between a positive nasal swab, which only indicates exposure, of course, and infection. There is no evidence, and I want to emphasize this, absolutely no evidence of infection at this point. All of those that had a positive nasal swab have been on antibiotics for some time and the good news is that everyone will be okay."
Even so, extraordinary precautions have been ordered, and staffers are being sent home until Tuesday.
Congressman Denny Hastert, had this to say: " We've held the mail in members' offices, but we think it's prudent also to take some time and go through and make sure that this building and our office buildings are environmentally safe."
Anthrax was discovered not only in Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building but also in the mailroom of the Dirksen Building next door.
Deputy Surgeon General Ken Moritsugu said, "With regard to the mail room, among the various tests that were done, there is a single test which appeared to be positive. And because of that, the mailroom has been placed off-limits."
All six Senate and House office buildings will be closed for 5 days and will undergo thorough testing for anthrax.
Adding to the anxiety: When a staffer in House Speaker Hastert's office saw photos of the letters that had been mailed to Daschle and Tom Brokaw, she remembered seeing a letter addressed to the Speaker in the same handwriting several weeks ago. That letter was not opened but rather was disposed of in a burn bag.
It was a nerve-racking day, but late this afternoon, Senate leaders said everything was under control and urged everyone to stay calm.
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