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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Congress shutdown as anthrax spreads
A New York City Emergency Service police officer inspects a mailbox.
President Bush wants $1.5bn to fight bioterrorism
The US House of Representatives and three Senate office buildings have closed down for tests after at least 31 congressional employees tested positive for anthrax exposure - increasing fears of new, full-blown cases of the potentially deadly disease.

Most of those infected were workers in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who received a letter containing anthrax through the post on Monday.

There's no question that right now we are in a period of the unknown

Tommy Thompson
Health and Human Services Secretary

But the bacteria also appeared to have spread beyond Mr Daschle's suite in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Two people tested positive for exposure who worked for Senator Russell Feingold, whose offices are adjacent to Mr Daschle's.

Meanwhile, New York Governor George Pataki said there was "a likelihood" that there had been anthrax in his Manhattan offices.

He said tests taken on Monday night in a secure room used by his state police security staff had produced positive results, but that three employees who were subsequently tested were not infected.

Mr Pataki said he and about 80 of his employees would be taking antibiotics as a precaution.

In other developments:

  • Taleban forces launch a counter-offensive against opposition fighters near the strategically important northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif
  • US air strikes target Taleban front-line positions close to Kabul, according to the opposition Northern Alliance
  • US Secretary of State Colin Powell receives strong support from Indian leaders during a whirlwind regional tour
  • Confusion surrounds the whereabouts of Taleban Foreign Minister Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil amid reports that he has left Afghanistan and made contact with former Afghan King Zahir Shah in Rome
  • Taleban leader Mullah Omar sends a rallying radio message to his commanders, telling them God is on their side in a "holy war against infidels"
  • Further sporadic fire is reported between Indian and Pakistani troops across the line of control in Kashmir as India says it will be "ruthless" with infiltrators
  • Australia commits 1,500 troops and military hardware to be fully deployed by mid-November

In Washington, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the house would shut down at the end of the working day on Wednesday to enable health officials to carry out tests in the Capitol complex, where more than 20,000 people work.

He had suggested that the anthrax was "in the ventilation system" and "going through the tunnels", but this was later denied by a number of Democratic senators.

Types of anthrax
Respiratory: Similar beginnings to flu but shock occurs between two and six days later - frequently fatal
Intestinal: Severe food poisoning type symptoms - up to 50% mortality
Cutaneous: Rarely painful skin lesion - fatal in one in 20 cases
Senator Daschle said three of the Senate buildings would be closed for more tests, but that the Senate would continue its work.

But leaders of the House of Representatives decided to close for anthrax testing on their side of the building, and officials suggested the offices might remained closed until Tuesday morning.

Senator Daschle stressed that the employees' positive nasal swabs only indicated exposure, and that there was "absolutely no indication" that they had been infected. He said they have all been taking antibiotics since last Friday.

Some staff in the office of another senator, Joseph Lieberman, were also reported to have tested positive for anthrax exposure.

Responsive to antibiotics

Preliminary tests show the anthrax sent to New York and that found in Florida were of the same strain, the Associated Press news agency quoted officials as saying.

But matching strains do not necessarily mean the anthrax came from the same source, the officials said.

They said there was no evidence of foreign terrorist involvement in the attacks, and one official said some evidence might even suggest a domestic source.

Investigators found similarities in handwriting on the envelopes containing anthrax
Tests have determined that the anthrax found in the letter sent to Senator Daschle was professionally made but was not weapons-grade bacteria and is responsive to antibiotics, a senior federal official told AP.

Earlier, officials said that the form of anthrax found in Senator Daschle's letter appeared to be one of its most "potent" forms and most likely the work of experts.

The FBI has said that the handwriting was the same on the letter sent to Mr Daschle and another sent to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.

They both contained the messages "Death to America" and "God is great".

Bush seeks $1.5bn

US Health and Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a Senate panel that President George W Bush would ask Congress for an additional $1.5bn to fight bioterrorism.

White House list of countries with stocks of anthrax
North Korea
South Korea
Investigators say there are hints but no hard evidence as to where the anthrax could have come from.

However Michael Powers of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute said that the sophistication of the strain found suggested "high-level" involvement.

"Usually to produce that quality of anthrax requires a fairly high level of technological sophistication, which to my mind indicates some sort of state sponsorship," he said.

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that the anthrax could not have come from America itself as US supplies of the bacteria were destroyed as part of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

Terrorists could also have obtained access to the bacteria via the many global laboratories that stock it for research purposes.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Washington
"The fear of anthrax is sweeping America"
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
"There is no evidence of infection at this point"
Chemical Weapons Author, Dr Martin Navius
says there are about a dozen countries that may be developing biological munitions
See also:

17 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax: Vehicle for spreading fear
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Using anthrax as a weapon
16 Oct 01 | World
Anthrax attack: What to do
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Tracking the anthrax spore
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
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