Pull Quote: “Unless you’re a high profile person, you shouldn’t worry about opening mail,” Dalton said.
With new reports that postal workers who handled letters containing anthrax were infected, mailrooms around the country, including Temple University’s Postal Services Department, are taking precautions to protect their employees from infection.
Mail handlers in Temple’s Postal Services Department have begun wearing rubber gloves to protect themselves from possible poisonous substances any letters or packages may contain.
|“Unless you’re a high profile person, you shouldn’t worry about opening mail.”|
David Dalton, biological & chemical weapons expert
David Dalton, a professor of Chemistry at Temple who has worked on potential antidotes for chemical weapons for the Army, said rubber gloves would keep anthrax from getting on workers’ skin.
“We haven’t seen anything suspicious,” said Charles Story, who works in the Postal Services Department. “If we ran into a suspicious package, we would leave it and call who we’re supposed to call.”
Story said the gloves are thrown away after they are used, but according to Dalton, if there is anthrax on a glove, it could be inhaled by anyone who empties the trashcan.
As of Oct. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 11 cases of anthrax infections: two in New Jersey, three in New York, two in Florida and four in Washington, D.C.
Most recently, anthrax was found at a White House mail screening facility, but no one has tested positive for infection.
The first case in the recent rash of infections was reported in Florida, where a letter mailed to a tabloid newspaper publisher was thought to have contained anthrax. One person died and two others were infected, but survived.
Anthrax was also found in letters mailed to the offices of NBC in New York and to the U.S. Senate office of Majority Leader Tom Daschle in Washington, D.C.
The form of anthrax found in the letters is usually combined with other larger particles so it can be spread more easily.
The CDC said the strain of anthrax found in the case in Florida is almost identical to the anthrax in the NBC case.
Dalton said this does not necessarily mean that they came from the same “batch” of anthrax, but that at some point, each batch was derived from the same place.
In its purest form, anthrax is found in cattle and other farm animals. Once harvested, it is extremely complicated to turn into an aerosol form that can be inhaled.
With the media and government already targeted, there is speculation about the safety of educational institutions.
The probability of a university being targeted, said Dalton, is not great, unless a terrorist is after a particular person.
In some university departments, including the Chemistry Department where Dalton teaches, someone wearing protective equipment opens packages in a special room. It is rare, though, for an unexpected package to arrive.
“Unless you’re a ‘high profile’ person, you shouldn’t worry about opening mail,” Dalton said.