A Washington, D.C., postal worker was in serious but stable condition Sunday after he was diagnosed with a pulmonary infection caused by inhaled anthrax - becoming the ninth victim on the roster of confirmed cases.
Five other Washington postal workers were sick Sunday with symptoms consistent with anthrax, and health officials were awaiting the results of testing to determine whether they actually have the disease, said Jack Pannell, spokesman for the city Health Department.
At least two of them are hospitalized, Pannell said.
Law enforcement officials intensified their search for the source of the deadly germ, and about 2,200 postal workers in and around the nation's capital were encouraged to seek testing for anthrax exposure.
In the latest confirmed case, the man worked in a postal facility that handles mail addressed to congressional offices, prompting speculation that he might have been infected by an anthrax-tainted letter opened last Monday in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The Washington Post said the postal employee was identified by co-workers as Leroy Richmond of Stafford, Va. He was listed in serious but stable condition at Inova Fairfax (Va.) Hospital. A spokesman described him as suffering from a fever and chest pains.
At an afternoon news conference, Mayor Anthony Williams said the postal worker was "gravely ill," but Williams offered assurances that systems put in place to identify and quickly treat new anthrax cases were working as they should.
"We're going to do everything we can and everything we have to do . . . to see that people are getting the treatment they need when they need that treatment," the mayor said.
Acting on the assumption that the worker fell ill after handling an anthrax-tainted letter, perhaps the same one that has caused turmoil on Capitol Hill, authorities began screening and pre-emptive antibiotic treatment for more than 2,000 mail workers at the District's main processing center and 150 at an air-mail center near Baltimore-Washington Airport.
The man is the third person in the nation to come down with the most serious form of the disease, where anthrax spores enter the respiratory system and lodge deep in the lungs. Six others, including two postal workers in New Jersey, have been infected with a highly treatable form that is contracted through the skin.
The current outbreak of anthrax has claimed only one life, that of Robert Stevens, a photo editor at American Media in Boca Raton, Fla.
The Washington postal worker first developed flulike symptoms in the middle of last week but did not feel ill enough to go to the hospital until Friday. Sick with fever and chest pain, he was immediately given Cipro and other antibiotics, but health officials did not know whether they began treatment early enough to save his life.
Surgeon General David Satcher said inhalation anthrax - which is not contagious - has been fatal about 80 percent of the time. "But that's in the past. We have different technology today," he said on CNN's Late Edition. "It is not yet hopeless."
A postal official said the man was alert enough Sunday to watch the Washington Redskins game on TV.
Also Sunday, congressional leaders decided to return to work as planned on Tuesday. The Capitol will be open today, but nearby congressional offices will remain closed as investigators await the results from environmental tests of 19 congressional buildings.
The anthrax letters have fanned anxiety across America, even though the number of known exposures remains relatively small. Coming just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, public suspicion has centered on Osama bin Laden as the likely culprit.
But U.S. officials have not produced any evidence that bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the suicide hijackings last month, is responsible for unleashing anthrax through the U.S. mail.
Asked if there is any connection between bin Laden and the anthrax scare, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on CBS Sunday: "There may be, but I don't know."
Anthrax screenings for the postal employees in Washington began Sunday at a city government building and will continue today at District of Columbia General Hospital. Those employees will each be given a 10-day supply of the antibiotic Cipro until results of their nasal swab tests are confirmed.
The stricken employee went to the hospital Friday complaining of a fever, chest pains and similar flu-like symptoms. When hospital personnel learned he was a postal worker, the man was tested for anthrax, admitted to the hospital and immediately placed on antibiotics.
On Sunday the test results confirmed the man had inhaled anthrax spores. The prognosis for a person with inhaled anthrax is "not great," said Dr. Anne Peterson, Virginia Health Commissioner.
In New York, where four anthrax infections have been reported, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani welcomed the arrival of a Department of Defense rapid response team, which would allow for faster anthrax testing. Giuliani reported that 1,300 tests for anthrax exposure had come back negative. None of the four New York victims, all of whom suffered the more treatable skin version of infection, were considered in peril.
"In all four cases, the people are recovering or recovered," he said.