Anthrax blamed as two postal workers die in United States

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 27 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:951
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Two US postal workers who handled mail at an office where a letter contaminated with anthrax was sorted are suspected to have died from the disease. As the BMJ went to press this week, tests were being carried out on the men who died in what officials called “highly suspicious circumstances.”

    The cases, if confirmed, would bring the number of deaths to three since the first case in Florida more than two weeks ago. The men worked in Washington's main sorting office, where investigators believe three letters containing anthrax were sorted.

    Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and the Bush administration's new domestic security chief, told a press conference at the White House on Monday that 2000 postal workers there were being tested for exposure to anthrax and were being treated with antibiotics. Extensive environmental testing was also being conducted. Similar precautions were being taken to protect workers at a second sorting facility in Maryland.

    Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services, has announced that he is negotiating with Bayer and other drug companies to buy ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics that could be used to treat anthrax.

    Meantime, worried Americans are flocking to buy ciprofloxacin from drugstores in Mexico. Farmacias del Rio in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, sells a pack of 36 generic ciprofloxacin tablets for $55 (£37). The same amount of the drug in the United States would cost $170 to $180.

    The Food and Drug Administration has ordered all private ciprofloxacin shipments arriving from overseas to be stopped at the border, a move to crack down on illegal antibiotic sales on the internet spurred by the anthrax scare. The FDA is also investigating reports that internet sites are selling fake Cipro (the market name for ciprofloxacin) instead of the real drug.

    Robert Mueller 3rd, director of the FBI, said that the US government would offer a $1m reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for anthrax attacks.

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