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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
US anthrax cases linked
A New York City Emergency Service police officer inspects a mailbox.
Americans have been told to be especially alert
Preliminary tests suggest that anthrax sent to a New York television station is the same strain as the bacteria which caused an outbreak in Florida.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that, following preliminary genetic testing, "the strain in New York appears to match the strain in Florida".

You've been exposed to anthrax. You're going to die

Letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office
News of the link came after the US House of Representatives and the three Senate office buildings in Washington were closed for tests after at least 31 congressional employees tested positive for anthrax exposure. Three House office buildings and the Library of Congress were also closed.

On Thursday, Kenya announced the first known anthrax letter outside the United States - which was posted in Atlanta and received by a businessman in Nairobi.

Click here for a map of the Capitol.

Four people have been exposed to anthrax as a result, but it is not known whether anyone has contracted the disease.

Four US cases so far

Two people are being treated for skin anthrax after a letter containing the bacteria was sent to NBC TV in New York, while the Florida outbreak - which centred on the offices of newspaper group American Media Inc - saw one man die and another need treatment for respiratory anthrax.

Officials said a matching strain did not necessarily mean the anthrax came from the same source, but the match may help investigators narrow in on the individuals or groups responsible.

US law enforcement officials have said there is no evidence linking the anthrax scares with foreign terrorists.

But with nerves on edge since the 11 September terror attacks on New York and Washington, the two threats are being increasingly linked.

White powder packages

The latest US anthrax alert, which saw hundreds of Congressional workers in Washington queuing for tests, came after a letter containing anthrax spores was opened in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Most of the people who tested positive for exposure to anthrax worked in the office. Five law enforcement personnel also tested positive.

Strains 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
According to Senator John Kerry, the letter was opened by an assistant with a pair of scissors, at which point white powder leaked out.

A note inside warned: "You've been exposed to anthrax. You're going to die."

Senator Daschle stressed that the employees' positive nasal swabs only indicated exposure to anthrax, and that there was "absolutely no indication" that they had been infected.

He said they had all been taking antibiotics since last Friday. "It is treatable," he said.

Tests have determined that the anthrax found in the letter was professionally made but was not weapons-grade.

Envelopes sent to the US Senate and NBC TV in New York
Investigators have found similarities in handwriting on envelopes containing anthrax
The US deputy surgeon-general, Ken Mortisugu, said the contamination was extremely limited and had not spread into the air-conditioning system.

While the Senate has decided to close all three of its office buildings, it still plans to convene on Thursday.

By contrast, the House of Representatives has suspended proceedings until next week. Speaker Dennis Hastert said the house would shut down to enable health officials to carry out tests in the Capitol complex, where more than 20,000 people work.

In 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 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.

Mounting concern about the US cases has triggered alerts and hoaxes around the world, with the Israeli parliament evacuated along with public buildings in Europe, Africa and New Zealand.

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The BBC's Tim Franks
"The astounding has become mundane"
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
"There is no evidence of infection at this point"
Michael Powers, bioterrorism expert
"The smaller the particle size the longer the agent will stay in the air"
See also:

18 Oct 01 | Americas
Bio-labs face tight security
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax: Vehicle for spreading fear
18 Oct 01 | Americas
Senate workers line up for tests
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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