Child of ABC employee tests positive for anthrax

A child of an ABC News employee has been tested positive for anthrax, two officials said Monday.

The officials, both familiar with the investigation, said the child is being treated with antibiotics and is expected to recover. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

The anthrax diagnosed in the child is the type that is absorbed through cuts or scratches in the skin, not the more dangerous inhaled variety, the sources said.

The child had recently visited the ABC newsroom in New York, probably on Sept. 28, the source said.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and police officials were at ABC News on Monday evening, officials said.

Separately, police are investigating a letter that infected an NBC employee in New York last week.

The child’s condition became public shortly after Florida health officials said a second employee of a supermarket tabloid in the state has the inhaled form of anthrax.

Ernesto Blanco, 73, was making good progress, Florida officials said.

Also on Monday, a letter initially testing positive for anthrax was discovered in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Across the country, mailrooms tighten security after anthrax reports.

With anthrax-contaminated letters arriving in offices from Nevada to the nation’s capital, mailrooms and delivery services across the country are putting new handling procedures in place.

Mailroom employees are being warned to check packages for misspellings in common names and words, to look for powdery substances and excessive or inadequate postage, and to contact authorities about any suspicious mail.

The Postal Service announced the creation of a task force to examine mail security and hazardous-material safeguards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for handling letters and packages. And private delivery companies are scrutinizing their own procedures.

At NBC, where one employee contracted the skin form of anthrax and another has shown symptoms, the network has stopped accepting mail from the Postal Service.

“Our entire mail system is being looked at by professionals,” said spokeswoman Kassie Canter. “Our interim procedure for the near-term future is that we’re accepting UPS and FedEx, and they’re being screened. Employees have the option not to accept anything.”

In California, Gov. Gray Davis ordered state employees to stop handling letters and packages until they complete training sessions given by the California Highway Patrol.

“People are lining up around the block to take them,” said Anne DaVigo, a Highway Patrol spokeswoman. “We’re doing it just as fast as we can.”

At a meeting of the National Postal Forum in Denver, Postmaster General Jack E. Potter told participants that the U.S. mail is safe.

“We cannot afford for that confidence to erode,” Potter told representatives of corporate and government mailrooms. “With additional vigilance and additional work with our public, we won’t let that happen.”

FedEx Corp. employees were put on higher alert for suspicious mail.

FedEx is carefully screening packages and called the FBI about a few suspicious packages, all of which turned out to be false alarms, said Jess Bunn, a spokesman at the company headquarters in Memphis. The company is also advising making gloves and respirators available to the employees.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said mailroom security procedures have also been enhanced. She would not give details.

News organizations across the country said the same.

“We will look at packages and unless they say ‘confidential,’ they will be opened. Junk mail is being set aside for the time being while we streamline the process,” CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said.

Some manufacturers are taking steps as well.Boeing Co., which has factories in the Seattle area and administrative offices in Chicago, has set up new checkpoints to inspect incoming shipments, spokesman Dean Tougas said. The inspection points were set up a distance away from the company’s production areas.

At the postal forum in Denver, three seminars on mailroom security were added to the three-day convention. Potter told participants to watch for letters or packages that lack a return address or have a vague address.

He said suspicious pieces of mail should be put in a plastic bag and turned over to authorities. “Don’t open it. Don’t shake it. Don’t smell it,” he said.

The CDC also said suspicious letters or packages should be placed in a plastic bag or similar covering. People should then leave the room, close the door and wash their hands with soap and water before notifying police and building security officials.