N.J. postal worker contracts anthrax; authorities fear co-worker may also be infected

By John P. McAlpin The Associated Press
Friday October 19, 2001

TRENTON, N.J. — A postal worker who may have handled anthrax-contaminated letters sent to NBC and the Senate majority leader has the skin form of the disease, authorities said Thursday. 

The infected worker is a female letter carrier. Two other Trenton postal workers are being tested, including a maintenance worker Postal Inspector Tony Esposito said officials are “almost certain” has anthrax. Test results were pending. 

The employees were being treated and taking antibiotics, Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said. The letter carrier has been released from an undisclosed hospital. 

The letter carrier works at a local post office that sends mail to the regional facility outside Trenton where the contaminated letters were postmarked. The maintenance employee works at the regional facility. 

At the local post office in West Trenton, Postmaster Joseph Sautello said there are no immediate plans to shut down the facility. 

The state’s chief medical officer, George DiFerdinando Jr., said customers who visited the regional post office in the past three weeks should see a doctor if they have any symptoms of illness or a rash. 

The third employee is a a Levittown, Pa., man who works at an undisclosed post office serving Trenton. He has developed a rash and was being tested to see if he had been exposed to anthrax, Bucks County, Pa., health officials said. County Health Commissioner Dr. Louis Polk said test results on the 35-year-old man were expected Friday. 

Officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control were en route to New Jersey to decide if additional tests were warranted for other postal employees. 

The female postal employee is one of six people infected with anthrax. One, a 63-year-old Florida man, died Oct. 5. The others are recovering. 

New Jersey authorities wouldn’t disclose personal details about the mail carrier and maintenance worker. They have said both were working on days when the tainted mail would have been processed. 

The postal facility collects mail from 46 postal offices throughout central New Jersey. 

A letter contaminated with anthrax that was postmarked in Trenton last month was mailed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC headquarters in New York. The other letter, postmarked from Trenton earlier this month, was mailed to Sen. Tom Daschle’s office in Washington. 

An aide to Brokaw has the skin form of anthrax. More than 30 workers in Daschle’s Senate office were exposed to the bacterium and are being treated with antibiotics. 

Meanwhile, federal officials have questioned at least two New Jersey pharmacists about anyone buying large amounts of the antibiotic Cipro prior to Sept. 18, when the Brokaw letter was mailed. 

Pharmacist John Berkenkopf, who owns Episcopo’s Pharmacy in Trenton, said two officials with the Food and Drug Administration questioned him Wednesday about anyone who bought between 60 and 120 tablets of the antibiotic. 

Cipro is usually prescribed for a week to 14 days, which is about 10 or 20 pills, Berkenkopf said. 

“Any more than that would ring all kinds of bells,” he said. He said he had not gotten any requests for large amounts of Cipro. 

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Carroll declined to comment on the investigation but said it “would stand to reason” that authorities would be suspicious of anyone seeking large amounts of Cipro. 

The state is also receiving attention from federal investigators looking into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At least six of the jetliner hijackers are believed to have lived in Paterson.