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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 01:26 GMT
Call to shut US anthrax mailrooms
NYC police car parked in front of Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital
Police are keeping people away from the NY hospital
Postal union leaders in Florida have filed a lawsuit, demanding that 13 mail sorting offices which have been infected with anthrax be closed down.

The union says the action is necessary to protect its members from the disease.

If the closures go ahead, it could paralyse the postal network across the southern United States.

The move came as a New York City hospital was closed after a worker tested positive for inhalation anthrax - the most serious form of the disease.

The worker, a 61-year-old woman, is in "a very serious condition" and is on a respirator.

Anthrax spreads
16 confirmed infections
3 deaths (2 in Washington DC, 1 in Florida)
5 ill with inhalation anthrax
7 cases skin anthrax
13,300 postal workers taking antibiotics as protective measure
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said more than 300 personnel of Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital were being interviewed to try to determine the source of the infection. They were also being tested for the disease.

It is the first case of inhalation anthrax in New York City and brings the total number of confirmed anthrax victims in the United States to 16.

Mailroom door at Senate is sealed
Mailrooms around the country are being sealed
Postmaster General John Potter told the US Senate on Tuesday that the anthrax outbreak could cost the Postal Service "several billion dollars".

He said the service was not in danger of collapse, but that the outbreak made matters very difficult.

The national postal workers union has long argued that not enough is being done to protect its members.

They say that all staff should be tested and allowed to wear masks and gloves, but management have refused to allow this.

Now, the southern branch of the union has decided to act alone and take the postal service to court.

It has issued a lawsuit against Mr Potter, demanding he close all Florida's sorting offices until staff and buildings are given the all-clear.

The case is being considered by a US district judge who will give her decision later this week.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
Mr Giuliani said the hospital was being tested

Mr Giuliani said there was no evidence that the anthrax spores which infected the New York hospital worker came from a letter.

About 40 environmental samples have been taken around the hospital.

The mayor said the first 10 results that came back were negative for anthrax.

Two more cases of anthrax were earlier confirmed in New Jersey - one of them a postal worker who contracted inhalation anthrax.

Mail centre link

The other, who has the skin form of the disease, is the first person reported to be infected who did not work in a mailroom or in a media company.

The 61-year-old New York victim is known to have worked near the Hamilton Township mail centre, in the Trenton area, which processed at least three letters known to contain anthrax spores.

So far three people have died from the outbreak - two of them postal workers and the other, a journalist on a Florida newspaper.

Anthrax has been found in Florida, New York, New Jersey and in Washington.

Traces have been found at government buildings in Washington, including the State Department, the Supreme Court and the Cohen Building, which houses several government agencies.

All the mailrooms have been closed and workers have been given antibiotics.

And mailrooms in 240 US embassies and consulates worldwide are being decontaminated after anthrax spores were discovered in a diplomatic bag at the embassy in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

Investigators still do not know who is behind the attacks. US-based extremists are now thought to be the chief suspects, rather than terrorists abroad.

The BBC's Kim Barnes
"More scares for nervous Americans"
See also:

31 Oct 01 | Americas
US steps up nuclear security
30 Oct 01 | Americas
Sitting ducks on NY underground?
29 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Mail sterilisation: The options
27 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in Congress offices
26 Oct 01 | Americas
New anti-terror laws for US
24 Oct 01 | Americas
Q&A: The anthrax mystery
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