The number of deaths in America from inhaled anthrax has most likely risen to three. Besides the previously known death of a Florida newspaper employee, US health officials now say all signs indicate two Washington, DC-area postal workers have died of the disease.
Both worked at a postal facility that services Capitol Hill. And there are questions now about whether the government has, in fact, moved wisely, aggressively, and quickly to protect postal workers and the public from anthrax attacks. CBS's Bob Schieffer explains.
The news just seems to get worse. Today two workers at the postal facility where congressional mail is first delivered died, two more workers from that facility have confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax, and nine others may have contracted it.
At the White House, the new director of homeland security said anthrax almost certainly caused the deaths.
"It is very clear their symptoms are suspicious and their deaths are likely due to anthrax," says Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security.
The postal facility was closed and thousands of workers are being bused to hospitals for testing. Their moods ranged from worried to angry.
One worker says, "I think we should have got tested last week along with the folks on the hill . . . [I'm] very scared, very scared."
Another says, "We've been given rubber gloves, we've been given masks, and we've been instructed to be extra careful and a little cautious about what we see in the mail we've been handling."
The several dozen congressional staffers being treated for the anthrax exposure that occurred when the substance was found in a letter sent to Senator Dashle's office are doing well, but the anthrax inhaled by the postal workers was apparently more concentrated and deadlier.
"This is a different day. We have multiple postal workers where we have suspicions and two confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax," says Ivan Walks, Washington, DC's chief medical officer.
The postal workers came from this facility, where, experts say, high-speed mailsorting machines could put them at greater risk than those who receive anthrax in the mail.
"So if there is a tear in the envelope or the system itself is tearing the envelope that powder is generating small-particle aerosol," says William Patrick, bioterrorism expert and CBS News consultant.
Technicians are still testing congressional offices for anthrax after a trace was discovered this weekend in a third congressional building. Those buildings and other congressional offices remain closed, but the Capitol itself was open.
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