Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Anthrax scare comes close to home

October 17, 2001

As military efforts continue in Afghanistan, the threat of bioterrorism lingers in the mind of the American public.

In the last week, health officials have been busy testing substances thought to be the anthrax bacteria, not only in the largest metropolitan areas in the country, but in sparsely populated areas as well.

During a recent three-day period, Leavenworth County health officials, fire departments and hazardous material teams responded to four separate anthrax-related scares, in which individuals believed they had been in contact with the bacteria.

Two of those incidents occurred Sunday, Oct. 14, in Basehor and Tonganoxie. According to the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Department, residents of those homes became worried when they noticed a suspicious powder on their newspapers. It was later confirmed the powder on the newspapers were from a printing process.

Similar cases also occurred at the Leavenworth Post Office on Saturday, Oct. 13, and on Monday, Oct. 15, at Armed Forces Insurance in Leavenworth.

Again, individuals believed they came in contact with the bacteria, but the substances were later found to be non-toxic.

The postal worker believed to have had contact with the bacteria immediately went to the bathroom and locked himself in until police had arrived.

"He was smart enough to isolate himself and wait for help to arrive," said Debbie Winetroub, Leavenworth County emergency management assistant coordinator.

The postal worker was decontaminated at the scene and later taken to an area hospital.

Although the suspected anthrax cases were taken seriously by county officials, there has been no trace of the bacteria found in Leavenworth or Wyandotte Counties.

"There has been none found," said Frankie Jackson, Leavenworth County Health Department director.

Jackson said the health department has fielded numerous calls regarding the bacteria and that she expects more anthrax scares in the future.

"There is so much on the news about it, I am sure people are just scared at every little thing right now," she said.

"Most of all people need to not panic, it is not going to jump through their skin."

Although there have been several scares in Leavenworth County, Wyandotte County officials said there have been no reported cases of anyone thought to have come in contact with the bacteria.

"We have not come across anything at all," Wyandotte County Undersheriff Rick Mellott said.

Recent national cases of anthrax being received through the mail have caused concern at the Wyandotte County jail. .

Mellott said a mail clerk is now wearing rubber gloves while sorting mail and has been checking all the addresses of packages. If the address is not local, the clerk takes other precautions, Mellott said.

National government leaders have also become concerned about the recent anthrax cases.

Leavenworth and Wyandotte county emergency management officials recently met with two members of Congress to discuss local preparedness in case of an outbreak of the bacteria.

Congressman Dennis Moore, who represents the third district, which encompasses Edwardsville and Bonner Springs, attended the meeting along with Congress woman Kathy McCartney.

"I held a meeting with area emergency preparedness officials this week to discuss whether our area was prepared for an attack," Moore said. "They tell me that our area is more prepared than many metropolitan areas, but that we still have a lot of work to do."

Leavenworth County emergency management director Chuck Magaha said the county was well prepared for the smaller scares that has occurred recently.

"I feel confident with the way our system works," Magaha said. "What people don't need to do is panic. The most important thing is to not panic."

Magaha said the county is well prepared to deal with daily scares such as the scares during the weekend, but would need more federal funding for a specific large event.

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