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Posted October 26, 2001 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Winchester man infected with anthrax

By Carolyn Keister Baker

An anthrax case has hit home.

A 59-year-old Winchester man, who is an employee of the U.S. State Department mail facility in Sterling, was hospitalized Thursday at Winchester Medical Center with inhalation anthrax.

The man's exposure is presumed to be through the handling of mail at work.

The man, whose name the hospital has declined to release, was in "reasonable spirits on Thursday night.

He is talking and visiting with his family," said Dr. Terry Sinclair, vice pre-sident of me-dical affairs for Valley Health Systems, which owns the Win-chester and Warren Memorial hospitals.

The man, listed in guarded condition Thursday, came to the hospital's emergency room Wednesday night, went home, but then was admitted the next morning after results from several tests suggested inhalation anthrax, Sinclair said.

Hospital officials, hoping the results would be negative, received conclusive results, which were positive, from a blood culture Thursday night, Sinclair said. The Virginia Department of Health, through the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, also confirmed the case with a different test, he said.

The man, admitted to the hospital's general ward, is receiving three different kinds of antibiotics intravenously including Cipro and penicillin, which is the standard treatment, Sinclair said.

"He is in guarded condition. That is all I can tell you at this point," Sinclair said. "You go from day to day, from minute to minute."

Inhalation anthrax, caused when anthrax spores are inhaled and then lodge in the lungs, is a grave form of the bacterial disease. Eighty percent of cases of inhalation anthrax are fatal.

Sinclair is not surprised by the anthrax case. "I thought it was a possibility because of our close proximity to Washington, D.C."

But Sinclair quickly pointed out that this case of anthrax was not caused by exposure in the Shenandoah Valley.

"It would really create panic if people thought the exposure was right here in Winchester and in our health district," Sinclair said.

The man is an employee of a contracting firm that processes mail for the State Department. He delivers mail between the Sterling mail handling site near Dulles and the State Department, Sinclair said. The Sterling facility gets mail from the Brentwood post office in Washington, he said.

Two Brentwood postal workers have died from inhalation anthrax. Two others are in serious condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

The Winchester case brings the number of confirmed anthrax cases to 13, including seven cases of inhalation anthrax and six cases of the less dangerous skin form of the disease, according to The Associated Press.

Health officials, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are investigating this latest case, Sinclair said. Representatives from both the federal and state agencies have been at the hospital, he said.

The hospital is prepared to handle illness associated with bioterrorism, Sinclair said. The hospital has on its staff two infectious disease specialists. The emergency room is prepared. Physicians have received additional education and training, he said.

"We are operating off a protocol for bioterrorism," Sinclair said.
The Winchester hospital has treated dozens of people worried about anthrax and has the capability to administer nasal swab and blood culture tests when they are warranted, Sinclair said.

"Every emergency room is experiencing the same thing. Everyone is apprehensive about what is going on," Sinclair said.

Twenty-eight to 30 people have come to Winchester hospital's emergency room. Some of those people exhibited flu-like symptoms, Sinclair said. Others saw a powdery substance and were worried they may have been exposed to the potentially deadly bacteria, he said.

Except for this latest case, "all have been negative and not a problem," Sinclair said.

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