USPS Issues Assurances After NYC Anthrax Report

The U.S. Postal Service issued assurances to consumers about the safety of mail service after reports broke Friday of an anthrax infection in New York City that may have been transmitted by a letter.

An NBC News employee tested positive for anthrax infection after handling a suspicious piece of mail, further raising fears that the mail is being used to transport biological weapons.

To allay consumer fears, the USPS published a Q&A fact list about anthrax on its Web site and urged people with specific concerns to contact local law enforcement. Today the USPS confirmed that anthrax has been sent by mail in at least two cases.

“We are taking every reasonable measure to assure the safety of our employees and customers,” Postmaster General Jack Potter said. “We deliver 680 million pieces of mail each day. To date, there has no been a confirmed case of transmission of anthrax using U.S. mail.”

The FBI issued a warning of its own urging people to use caution with suspicious letters and packages. Such packages should be handled with care, isolated and reported to authorities, the FBI said.

The unidentified employee of NBC Nightly News handled a suspicious letter filled with a powdery substance at the network’s New York headquarters, but it was unclear whether the letter actually transmitted the bacteria.

Some mailers remained wary of responding to the incident in the immediate hours after news of the New York anthrax reports broke. A spokesman for Banta Corp., Menasha, WI, said his company would withhold comment on the potential effects of an anthrax scare because details about the type of packaging and shipping methods involved in the incident were not yet available.

The Direct Marketing Association declined comment on the reported incidents citing a lack of details about the case.

“We’re pretty much still assessing the situation,” a DMA spokeswoman said. “There’s spotty information. Not much is confirmed yet.”

Anthrax is a bacterium that is potentially deadly in certain forms unless treated quickly after infection. Three other cases have been reported at the office of a supermarket tabloid in Boca Raton, FL, one of which was fatal.

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