Genetic match of Ames-Daschle anthrax points to multiple possible sources
WASHINGTON (AP) — A genetic match between the anthrax spores in the letters mailed to Capitol Hill and those in the Army’s stockpile wouldn’t necessarily provide clues to who was responsible for the bioterrorist attack, an Army spokesman said.
Chuck Dasey, a spokesman at Fort Detrick, Md., said the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease got its supply from the Agriculture Department and shared it with five laboratories.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the genetic makeup of the anthrax used in the letters mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and to Sen. Patrick Leahy matched those in the Army’s stockpile.
“I’m not sure it tells us anything about who the perpetrator is,” Dasey said.
“You can’t say it all came from USAMRIID,” Dasey said. “We got it from another lab in the first place and so presumably USAMRIID is not the only lab that got it from the Department of Agriculture.”
On Capitol Hill, cleanup efforts at the Hart Senate Office Building were continuing. Officials began pumping chlorine dioxide gas into portions of the building’s ventilation system Sunday night in an operation expected to last for nine hours.
Environmental Protection Agency technicians also planned to use the liquid form of chlorine dioxide in the Daschle’s office, which had been fumigated with the gas earlier.
The EPA had hoped to begin the operation Friday night, but were delayed because of problems reaching the high humidity level needed to effectively kill the spores, Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said.
The Hart building has remained closed since Oct. 17, two days after an anthrax-filled letter was received in Daschle’s office. EPA reported Friday that traces of anthrax remained after its initial fumigation efforts.
Federal health authorities also considering whether to recommend that an anthrax vaccine be made available on a voluntary basis for potentially up to 3,000 people who had high levels of exposure to anthrax in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Florida, New York and New Jersey.
Other options include handing out another 30 days of antibiotics, on top of the basic 60-day dose, or advising people to wait under the watchful eye of a physician.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson plans to make a decision in the coming week.
“They’re looking at just those who were most highly infected,” Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Pierce said Sunday. “Ultimately, it will be up to each individual to choose in consultation with appropriate medical personnel.”
The Post also reported Sunday that the FBI was looking at various government programs, including a contractor who worked for the CIA, as a possible source of the anthrax used in the attacks.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield confirmed Sunday that the agency had some anthrax it used in its mission “to learn about potential biological warfare threats.”
But he said the CIA did not mill any of its samples into powdered form and that none of its supply is missing. “Our work, for the most part, involved the use of simulants, rather than live bacteria,” said Mansfield.
He said the CIA is working closely with the FBI “and other appropriate investigative agencies,” but that any comment on details of an FBI investigation would have to come from the FBI.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday on the Post report or on any aspect of the anthrax investigation.
Fort Detrick obtained anthrax from an Agriculture Department laboratory at Ames, Iowa, in 1980, and then shared it with the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, two research labs in Canada and Britain, an Ohio research institute and the University of New Mexico. The Ames strain is relatively common and is used in numerous American labs.
Researchers have concluded that all the mailed spores were of the Ames strain.
USAMRIID uses the liquid strain in research, not the dry form that was used as a terrorist weapon, Dasey said. “The point is we don’t have the technology to make that fine dry powder which was in the letters,” he said.
The CDC has confirmed 18 cases of anthrax infection, 11 cases of inhalation anthrax and seven through the skin since the anthrax-by-mail attacks began in October. Five people have died; all had the more serious inhalation anthrax.
On the Net:
Fort Detrick site: http://www.usamriid.army.mil
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