By: Karen Matthews, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A New York Post employee has contracted skin anthrax, becoming the fourth case in New York — all involving media companies — and the seventh anthrax case nationwide in recent weeks.
The victim, Johanna Huden, 30, is an assistant to Editorial Page Editor Bob McManus, who said she had recovered and was working Friday.
“She’s been real brave,” he said. “The original wound was scary but she’s fine now.”
The source of the anthrax was not known. Post Co-Chairman Lachlan Murdoch said Huden’s work included opening letters to the editor but “she doesn’t recall opening any suspicious letters or packages.”
Tests were being done at the newspaper’s offices in the building of its parent company, News Corp., at 1211 Sixth Ave., at 48th Street, just a block from NBC headquarters where the first anthrax case among city media workers was discovered a week ago.
“We are taking every precaution and working closely with authorities to identify the source of the infection and prevent any further risk,” Publisher Ken Chandler said. “The authorities have assured us there is no danger to our employees.”
The woman noticed a blister on one of her fingers on Sept. 22. The blister became infected. She was treated with antibiotics, but after the discovery of anthrax at NBC last week, she was tested for anthrax, the Post said.
Early tests were negative but a positive test came back Thursday night, the statement said. As a precaution, three other members of the Post staff who displayed flu-like symptoms were tested for anthrax in the past week and those tests were negative.
The News Corp. building was one of several media headquarters in Manhattan checked by police and the Health Department for the presence of anthrax over the past week.
In addition to the Post and NBC, other cases have surfaced at ABC News and CBS News.
The Post said it had begun tighter security measures and mail-handling procedures in the past week.
On Thursday, the diagnosis of a CBS employee who works in Dan Rather’s office was announced. Claire Fletcher is being treated but has continued to work, and network officials said that she feels fine. Rather said his colleague doesn’t remember receiving any suspicious packages.
The source of the bacteria at CBS was still being sought, but city Health Commissioner Neal Cohen said “it makes sense” to suspect that it was delivered in an envelope. Cohen noted that Fletcher, 27, works with mail and her case resembles the anthrax infection at NBC headquarters in New York.
Officials said there was no danger to CBS employees or the public.
“Our biggest problem today is not anthrax,” Rather said. “Our biggest problem is fear. … We are resolute, we will not flinch, we will not bend, we will not swerve.”
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, trying to ease public fears, emphasized that 17 days had passed since the appearance of Fletcher’s symptoms — a slight swelling in her cheek — and that no one else at CBS had been affected.
He also pointed out that New York’s other skin anthrax victims — an assistant to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and a baby whose mother had taken him to ABC News headquarters — were recovering.
“This all supports the conclusion you would draw from there being no other people with symptoms, and that is that there has been no spread,” Giuliani said.
The woman’s father, Bernard Fletcher, was interviewed at his home in England.
“Her main reaction is she’s a bit annoyed because the press in Manhattan have been camped out on her doorstep and so she’s had to move out of her flat,” he said. “Obviously, she was worried about the disease, but she’s been assured she will make a full recovery.”
Officials said Fletcher began treatment Oct. 4 by taking penicillin. When the NBC case became known, she was tested for anthrax and later had a biopsy, which came back positive for anthrax early Thursday.
Three other people in the United States have been infected with anthrax — a Florida tabloid photo editor who died, a colleague who remains hospitalized, and a New Jersey postal worker who may have handled the letter sent to Brokaw. The two tabloid workers got the more serious inhaled form of the disease; all others got the skin form.
More than 30 other people in Florida, Washington, and New York have tested positive for anthrax exposure.
Rather said he had no plans to be tested and was not taking medication. Brokaw has said he is taking antibiotics.
The CBS case to light came a day after samples taken from Gov. George Pataki’s New York City office tested positive for anthrax bacteria. No employees there have tested positive for the disease. Authorities have said that officers working on the city’s other cases may have brought in traces of anthrax.