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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   October 21, 2001

George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Dennis McGowan
(609) 984-7160


Testing and Clean-Up Plan for Anthrax Exposure at Route 130 Mail Processing Center in Hamilton Township and West Trenton Post Office is Announced


Trenton - The Department of Health and Senior Services last evening presented to the American Postal Workers Union a response plan to ensure the health and safety of postal employees at the Route 130 Mail Processing Center in Hamilton Township and the West Trenton Post Office in Ewing Township - by addressing further environmental testing and decontamination approaches. State Epidemiologist and Senior Assistant Commissioner Eddy Bresnitz, MD and Senior Assistant Commissioner for Public Health Protection and Prevention James Blumenstock represented the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).

The response plan was drafted at a meeting held earlier yesterday at the Hamilton Township facility and included representatives from the DHSS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States Postal Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

"Keeping the clinical samples in mind at this time and based on the environmental sampling results we've received today - in which 13 of the FBI crime scene samples came back preliminary positive for anthrax, we have designed collaboratively a response plan that ensures the health and safety of all the workers," said Dr. Bresnitz. "Our number one goal is to protect the safety of all workers and then to get the facilities fully up and running - but only when all environmental tests are negative after the clean-up work is done."

Dr. Bresnitz summarized for the workers the environmental sampling to date at both facilities. At the Hamilton Township facility, 13 out of the 23 samples collected by the FBI tested preliminary positive for anthrax - with final results expected in the near future. All 22 environmental samples taken mostly from public access areas by the DHSS show no growth thus far for anthrax. Preliminary results for the West Trenton facility of the crime scene sampling conducted by the FBI are not yet known. The DHSS and the FBI collected environmental samples on October 18 from the Hamilton Township facility, and on October 19 from the West Trenton facility; the FBI samples are crime scene samples.

In his step-by-step presentation, Dr. Bresnitz began by saying there is still epidemiological information to gather; the DHSS, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and CDC will do additional representative environmental sampling today at the Hamilton Township facility - with preliminary test results within 24 to 36 hours. When the sampling is done, the Postal Service's contractor will begin the clean-up process starting with the crime scene area already sampled by the FBI and working outward. Results of additional environmental samples will guide further clean-up plans.

Dr. Bresnitz said the DHSS and CDC team is preparing to make telephone calls on Sunday (Oct. 21) to a sampling of workers who had been selected for nasal swabbing. The DHSS and CDC team will also ask workers to complete questionnaires. Results of the nasal swabbing will be provided to the workers by the end of the week.

Dr. Bresnitz explained that this group of workers was selected based on where they work at the facility, with the goal of identifying a representative sampling of workers from all areas of the facility. The sampling is done for disease investigation (to see where exposures might have occurred) and not as a diagnostic test for disease. Many workers have already received anthrax exposure testing at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton; some will be asked to come in and take another test if contacted by the DHSS and CDC team.

This past Friday (October 19), the DHSS recommended that all postal workers at the Hamilton Township facility and the West Trenton facility see a physician and begin a seven-day course of antibiotics as a precaution while the criminal and health investigation of potential anthrax exposure and disease at the two facilities progresses.

One postal worker from the West Trenton post office has been confirmed as a definite case of cutaneous anthrax in testing conducted by the CDC. A second postal worker stationed at the Hamilton Township facility is considered by the CDC to be a suspect case at this time. A third postal worker, also from the mail processing center in Hamilton Township but a resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has been confirmed as a definite case of cutaneous anthrax in testing conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

According to Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner George T. DiFerdinando,
MD, preliminary skin culture tests were negative as the two New Jerseyans had been on antibiotics before testing. Blood samples for both workers and a skin biopsy from one worker were sent to the CDC for further testing. The skin biopsy was positive for anthrax. Serum specimens were positive for anthrax in both workers.

On October 13, both New Jersey patients' physicians notified the Department of
Health and Senior Services (DHSS) after hearing about the cancelled letter from Trenton that was sent to New York City. They reported that their patients may have been in contact with the letter received by Tom Brokaw at NBC-TV. Both patients had been treated with antibiotics in late September to early October. The DHSS received specimens from both patients on October 14 and skin cultures were performed that same day. Blood for antibodies was sent to the CDC also on October 14. The skin biopsy was delivered to the State laboratory and examined by the State Medical Examiner on October 16, which was then sent to the CDC by the FBI later that day. The CDC received the biopsy specimen on October 17 and reported results to DHSS on the morning of October 18.

According to Secretary of Health Robert S. Zimmerman, the Pennsylvania's resident anthrax sample was forwarded October 17 from Frankford Hospital (Bucks County Campus) to the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Bureau of Laboratories for testing on October 18 where laboratory tests of the sample detected anthrax bacteria. The patient is also being treated with antibiotics and is improving.

The state laboratory has received over 547 environmental samples, such as envelopes and packages, collected by law enforcement agencies from across the state. Testing on 98 of those specimens has been completed and all are negative for anthrax. In addition, 161 samples have tested negative in preliminary tests. The lab conducts preliminary (gram/spore stain) tests and culture tests on environmental samples and on clinical samples that meet established testing protocols.

The Department has established a bioterrorism phone line at the Emergency Operations Center at 609-538-6030 that is open between 8 am and 11 pm until further notice. Since the phone line opened on October 12, 2001, about 1,500 calls have been received. From 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., the number is 609-392-2020. Information is also available on the website at www.state.nj.us/health.




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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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