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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 05:41 GMT
First anthrax fatality shakes New York
Mail worker Dennis O'Neil
New York mail worker Dennis O'Neil warns people away from a building where anthrax spores were found
Megan Lane

For a city typically in rude health, New York is suddenly under the weather - it has had its first anthrax death.

When the anthrax scare first began, the cases seemed isolated, traced back to a handful of letters sent to prominent government and media offices.

Now the disease has claimed an ordinary New Yorker as its victim.


Let's get this in perspective - one death

Rudy Giuliani
Mayor of New York

Kathy Nguyen, who worked in the medical supply room at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, died on Wednesday of inhalation anthrax - the most serious form of the disease.

More than 1,110 staff, patients and visitors to the hospital have been given the antibiotic, Cipro, as a precaution.

And the city - already shaken by the 11 September terror attacks and anthrax scares - seems to be holding its breath, once more wary of what may lurk around the corner.

Fear of the unknown

Dale Lewis, a nurse at the hospital, says the death of her co-worker has rammed the threat home:

"Until now, I'd felt OK. Everybody's been a little edgy but [the anthrax threat] didn't affect us directly. I haven't changed my life - I still take the subway - but now when I'm in an enclosed elevator, I find myself wondering if I'm being exposed."

Dale Lewis, a nurse at the hospital where Kathy Nguyen worked
Dale Lewis: 'I sometimes wonderi if I'm being exposed'

It is the uncertainty which makes people jumpy. The authorities don't yet know how Ms Nguyen contracted the disease.

Although possible traces of anthrax have been found on her clothes, investigators have yet to discover where she came into contact with the disease. She lost consciousness before anyone could quiz her about her movements.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani has sought to allay New Yorkers' fears in his typical straight-talking fashion: "Let's get this in perspective - one death."

'We're the guinea pigs'

When anthrax panic first took hold in the US, many Americans rushed to their pharmacist in an attempt to get Cipro - against the advice of health officials, who warned that taking the antibiotic unnecessarily could make it less effective should the disease spread.

The death in New York - and another suspected case of skin anthrax - has redoubled these fears. Spend any time in a pharmacy in the city, and no doubt there will be someone trying to buy Cipro.

As a health professional herself, Ms Lewis would rather not be on the antibiotic.

"I'm concerned about building up immunity to anthrax," she says.

"I'm worried that health officials are putting us on the 'big guns' like Cipro when a lower strength antibiotic like penicillin would do the job. They're feeling their way through this, and we're the guinea pigs."

Thin blue line

In a city already on high alert, security has been stepped up this week. Not only did the government warn of new, albeit unspecified, terror attacks, the city hosted President George W Bush at a World Series baseball game on Tuesday.

Extra police have been drafted in for the city's Halloween parade and Sunday's marathon.
Adam Sherbell
Adam Sherbell: Not worried, yet

The high profile of New York's finest has set restaurant worker Adam Sherbell's mind at ease.

"I work under the 59th St Bridge, which is a landmark, so of course I think about the warnings of another attack," he said.

"But the cops and the military are all around, and I'm confident they can prevent anything else happening. As for anthrax, I'm not a member of the news media or a postal worker, so I'm not worried about being exposed - yet.

"If it turns out that it's airborne, then I'll be worried."

See also:

31 Oct 01 | Americas
US steps up nuclear security
29 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Mail sterilisation: The options
30 Oct 01 | Americas
Sitting ducks on NY underground?
27 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in Congress offices
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