NEW YORK – Medical and police investigators fanned out across media mailrooms in New York City Tuesday after the baby of an ABC News producer was diagnosed with anthrax of the skin, three days after an NBC News employee was shown to have the same disease.
In Florida, where a newspaper photo editor died of inhaled anthrax on Oct. 5, an elderly co-worker was recovering from surgery after contracting the same strain of the bacterium.
Asked whether the anthrax outbreaks could be connected to wanted terrorist Usama bin Laden, prime suspect in the devastating terror attacks of Sept. 11, President Bush said, "there may be some possible link."
"I wouldn't put it past him, but we don't have any hard evidence," Bush said.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said precautions were being taken at the White House with regard to mail, but added she was not aware of any tainted letters being delivered there.
"Like everybody else, we are being very cautious about what we open," Rice said.
ABC News president David Westin, appearing with New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik Monday night, said the producer's 7-month-old child was taking antibiotics and was expected to recover.
"The prognosis is excellent," Westin said.
The child had visited two floors at ABC headquarters with his mother on Sept. 28. Neither the baby's nor his mother's names were released.
In Florida, Ernesto Blanco, 73, a mailroom worker at American Media, Inc., in Boca Raton, was feeling good and talking with family members from his hospital bed after undergoing surgery, his stepdaughter Maria Orth said.
Doctors inserted tubes into his lungs to help him breathe after fluid collected. Blanco, who was originally thought to have had pneumonia, has been diagnosed with pulmonary, or lung-based, anthrax.
Orth said Blanco remained in intensive care at Cedars Medical Center in Miami.
Blanco's co-worker, Robert Stevens, died of pulmonary anthrax Oct. 5. His case was thought to be isolated and accidental until tests at American Media's building revealed anthrax spores on Stevens' computer keyboard and in Blanco's nose.
Stevens was a photo editor for The Sun, one of several newspaper tabloids, including The National Enquirer, The Star and The Weekly World News, published by American Media out of its Boca Raton headquarters.
Since then, anthracis spores have been discovered on the persons of five other American Media employees, and in a letter that was mailed from Malaysia to a Nevada office of the software company Microsoft. Tests indicate that at least 13 people nationwide either have the disease or were exposed to spores.
Spores were found in the Boca Raton post office that had handled American Media's mail, authorities said Monday, and the area was shut down.
Tests of postal employees came back negative, Postal Inspector Manny Gonzalez said.
The FBI said Monday that the wife of an American Media tabloid editor rented apartments to two of the suspected hijackers who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Right now we consider it a coincidence because we don't have any tie between the anthrax and the terrorists," FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said.
Pulmonary anthrax is much more dangerous than the cutaneous, or skin-based, form that both the ABC producer's baby and the NBC employee were diagnosed with in New York. So far, no one has been diagnosed with a third form, intestinal anthrax, which comes from eating infected meat. The disease is often found in sheep and other livestock.
The NBC employee was identified Friday as Erin O'Connor, 38, an assistant to NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw, to whom the infected letter was addressed. Another NBC employee had been tested for exposure, but results were not in.
Brokaw held up a bottle of antibiotics on his Monday evening newscast, saying "in Cipro we trust." He and hundreds of employees are taking the drug.
"I'm not sure, but I'm confident about the fact that [antibiotics are] going to get me through this, and I haven't shown any manifestations," Brokaw said earlier Monday on NBC's Today show.
At the Rockefeller Center headquarters of The Associated Press, close to NBC's headquarters, eight police officers, one wearing a full biohazard suit, took sample swabs from countertops and other surfaces in the mailroom. The swabs will be rubbed onto nutrient-filled petri dishes at a city health-department lab, which will germinate any anthracis spores that might be present.
On Tuesday, police planned to test the New York mailrooms of Fox, CNN, CBS, The Daily News and The New York Post. The New York Times mailroom was tested on Friday after a suspicious letter was discovered, but results were negative.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.