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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   October 23, 2001

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

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160


Update on Anthrax Situation in New Jersey


Acting Commissioner Dr. George DiFerdinando announced that 19 of the 59 environmental sampling tests taken this past Sunday at the Route 130 Mail Processing Facility in Hamilton Township by the Department of Health and Senior Services, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have tested preliminary positive for anthrax by the State's Public Health and Environmental Laboratory.

After learning these results, Dr. DiFerdinando said "the Department of Health and Senior Services and the CDC is considering further environmental sampling of the facilities in order to protect and ensure the safety of all workers. Now that a New Jersey postal worker has a suspected case of inhalational anthrax, we are considering air and vacuum samples in addition to the swipe samples that have been done."

Dr. George DiFerdinando said that now 14 out of the 23 samples collected by the FBI tested presumptive positive for anthrax at the Hamilton Township facility - with final results expected in the near future. All 22 environmental samples taken mostly from public access areas at the Hamilton Township facility by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) show no growth thus far for anthrax.

Meanwhile, 20 of the 20 environmental samples collected by the FBI from the West Trenton Post Office in Ewing Township are still negative for anthrax. The DHSS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation 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.

State Epidemiologist and Assistant Commissioner Eddy Bresnitz, MD said that over 600 nasal swabs have been done on postal workers to date between the DHSS and CDC team and Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center at Hamilton. The swabbing is done for disease investigation (to see where exposures might have occurred) and not as a diagnostic test for disease.

Earlier today, Dr. DiFerdinando announced that one postal worker stationed at the Route 130 Mail Processing Center in Hamilton Township is considered by the CDC to be a suspected case of inhalational anthrax. The patient is in serious but stable condition and receiving antibiotics.

Dr. DiFerdinando recommended a 10-day course of antibiotics for all postal workers the Hamilton Township facility and the West Trenton facility as a precaution while the criminal and health investigation of potential exposure and disease progresses to supersede his original recommendation of a seven-day course of antibiotics. The Acting Commissioner also recommended that all other workers who might have come into the workplace areas at the two facilities dating back to September 18th see a physician and begin a 10-day course of antibiotics.

Dr. DiFerdinando urged all postal workers with any recent dermatological or pulmonary symptoms to see a physician at this time.

Dr. Bresnitz explained the postal worker was admitted to the hospital on Friday, October 19. The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the CDC were notified of the patient's condition over the weekend. The patient presented with respiratory symptoms and initial tests for anthrax in the hospital were negative. Subsequent tests supported a suspected positive diagnosis for anthrax from the CDC. Additional lab results, including blood and serum samples, are expected from the CDC within a few days.

Dr. Bresnitz has informed Postal Service management about the suspected case and is continuing to meet with employees, management and union leadership to provide information.

According to Dr. Bresnitz, the DHSS and CDC team are working with hospitals, laboratories and private physicians in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to identify any potential cases. CDC and DHSS investigators are also reviewing employee absentee records as part of their active surveillance activities.

A team consisting of representatives from DHSS, CDC, the FBI, the United States Postal Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service are all working on this investigation.

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 suspected 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 Dr. DiFerdinando, 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.

As of this morning, the state laboratory has received over 886 environmental samples, such as envelopes and packages, collected by law enforcement agencies from across the state. Testing on 272 of those specimens has been completed and all are negative for anthrax. In addition, 279 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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