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New York Confronts First Case of Inhalation Anthrax

A hospital worker in New York City has become the latest person to die from anthrax. As Jon Frankel reports, it was a tense night in New York City, where authorities are maintaining a high state of alert while investigating a confusing but confirmed case of anthrax.

The case of a 61-year-old woman who worked in the storeroom at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital has investigators baffled. Her primary responsibilities were handling supplies, although she did sometimes sort mail. It's the latest piece in the terror puzzle.

Officials are trying to figure out how the hospital worker became infected with inhalation anthrax.

"We are interviewing a large number of people who know her, work with her, are friends with her and can provide information about her habits," said New York Health Commissioner Dr. Neal Cohen on the CBS Evening News.

"There's no clear linkage with mail in the way all the other cases had a very clear linkage," said Dr. Steven Ostroff of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The hospital is closed while officials wait for test results on areas around where the woman worked.

"She worked in the supply room which happened to be colocated with the mail room," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Larry Bush of the JFK Medical Center, who diagnosed the first case of inhalation anthrax in Florida, has since become an expert. He told Elizabeth Kaledin that the degree of illness often depends on the strength of the immune system.

"I think all you can say is you can probably get the disease from one spore and you can probably avoid the disease after you inhale a hundred thousand spores."

A new case of skin anthrax in New Jersey also involves a woman who's not a postal worker. Authorities think a letter she received went through the same West Trenton mail facility as the anthrax letters sent to Senator Tom Daschle, NBC News, and the New York Post.

So far tests on the New York woman's work area have not turned up any anthrax. However, any employee or recent visitor to Manhattan's Eye, Ear, and Throat hospital is being given a course of the antibiotic Cipro.

Dr. David Satcher, US Surgeon General, told the Early Show that health officials have been concerned about the spread of anthrax to ordinary citizens since the beginning. That is why guidelines for handling suspicious mail and how to protect against exposure have been widely publicized. Physicians have also been told to have a "high index of suspicion," and Dr. Satcher says they are doing a great job. He credits them with quickly detecting the two latest anthrax cases, which are not associated with the postal service or media outlets.

But, said Dr. Satcher, "We are facing a formidable foe and we have to be on high alert." We are being attacked by people who obviously have experience with anthrax. We need more epidemiologists, more stockpiles and more resources for state nd local health authorities.

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