Subsequent Tests Turn Up Negative for Anthrax Contamination
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 15, 2005 More than 70 more tests in and around the Pentagon have failed to turn up any evidence of anthrax contamination since the initial positive test March 14, DoD's top doctor said today.
Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, called the news of subsequent negative tests "reassuring" when compared to the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington and New York.
During those attacks, "there were multiple positive tests from the environment, sort of all over the place," he said. "We don't have any of that at this time, despite a lot of testing.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that we won't find another test that could be positive someplace else," Winkenwerder added. "But it certainly indicates, to me at least, that we're not dealing with a situation like we had three and a half years ago."
He explained subsequent tests have been conducted by swabbing surfaces and sampling the air in various locations with handheld devices. These tests are in addition to routine air sampling that goes on throughout facilities on the Pentagon reservation. "I think this is reassuring that we don't have any sort of anthrax specimen that's out in the air," Winkenwerder said.
The doctor noted that officials have not identified any particular piece of mail that was contaminated. "We don't have an envelope at this point that was addressed to someone that has produced a specimen of white powder or anything like that," he said.
The initial positive test result came from a test run on a filter from a machine that mail entering the Pentagon's Remote Delivery Facility goes through.
He also said officials have not conclusively ruled out that the result was a false positive. "I think the likelihood of that is probably low," Winkenwerder said. "But we haven't totally ruled that out at this point in time."
DoD and the rest of the federal government have made strides in preparing for just such an event since the 2001 bioterror attacks, Winkenwerder said. For starters, routine testing and screening measures are in place. "That's how we picked this up," he noted.
Officials are also better prepared to advise and treat people who might have been exposed to anthrax, and agencies have opened more efficient lines of communication, he added.
Winkenwerder said officials have not confirmed that any individuals were exposed to anthrax and said people who had contact with the affected area shouldn't be "overly anxious."
"We have a lot of information that would suggest that we don't have ... the type of situation that we had three and a half years ago," he said, referring to the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people.
However, since they can't yet rule out individual exposure, medical experts have counseled people who were in the affected area, swabbed nasal passages to conduct individual tests, and prescribed a three-day regimen of antibiotics. Individual test results should be completed "within another day or so," Winkenwerder said.
Officials have also provided information on anthrax symptoms to the individuals. "We think it's the ... prudent, cautious thing to do," Winkenwerder said.