Congressional leaders today ordered an unprecedented shutdown of the House and possibly the Senate after more than two dozen people in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office tested positive for exposure to a highly concentrated form of anthrax.
At a news conference in the Capitol basement, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said 29 people had tested positive for exposure in the Senate, including many aides to Daschle and two Capitol police officers.
Hastert announced anthrax also had been found in the Senate’s mailroom and had gotten into the ventilation system.
Yesterday, government officials announced that the anthrax mailed to Senator Daschle was pure and highly refined. This means that the particles are so tiny, they can float a considerable distance through the air on the smallest of air currents, without detection. The officials also said the potent grade of highly concentrated anthrax could have been made by an expert capable of producing large amounts of it.
But the nation’s public — and private —- health systems are ill— prepared for this kind of threat.
Doctors and hospitals are deluged with requests for anthrax tests from frightened citizens, and are turning most of them away. Public health labs are being strained to their limits as authorities bring in package after suspicious package for analysis. The German pharmaceutical company is tripling its production of the antibiotic Cipro, amid fears that there will not be enough to meet demand in the U.S. and around the world.
Nor is there a viable vaccine for the deadly disease. The one company in the U.S. that is licensed to make a vaccine for anthrax, Bioport, has not done so in years. It has consistently failed FDA tests. And, according to several high-ranking present and former military officers, the anthrax vaccine is still experimental, and has caused sickness of thousands of troops.
- Major Thomas Rempfer, U.S. military