NEW YORK – A New York City hospital worker died of inhalation anthrax Wednesday morning, becoming the fourth person in the nation to succumb to the deadly bacterium in a month of bioterrorism.
And anthrax spores were found in an Indiana Postal Service facility where postal machinery is repaired, marking the first time that the bacteria have been detected in the Midwest. The machinery had been sent for cleaning from a contaminated postal facility in Washington.
Also, health officials said Wednesday night that tests at a Kansas City postal facility found anthrax spores. The Centers for Disease Control is planning further testing on the samples to confirm the presence of anthrax.
In New York, Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, died three days after checking herself into Lenox Hill Hospital and being diagnosed as the city's first case of the inhaled form of the disease.
Hospital spokeswoman Ann Silverman said Nguyen died early Wednesday. She would not provide any other details.
Nguyen had been sedated, intubated and put on a ventilator and was too sick to help the health and criminal investigators who are trying to find the source of her infection.
Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who lived alone and commuted to the hospital by subway from the Bronx, worked in a basement supply room. Until recently, the space had included a mailroom, but there was no evidence of any suspicious letter, and the first environmental samples from the hospital were negative.
"Almost everyone in the hospital came in contact with her," because she delivered supplies to various departments and offices, said Thomas Rich, a co-worker.
Up to 2,000 hospital workers, patients and visitors who have been to the hospital since Oct. 11 are being offered antibiotics. The hospital was closed and other hospitals in the city were alerted to take precautions and report any suspicions.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said preliminary anthrax tests on Nguyen's home were negative.
"The president expresses his condolences and sympathy to the family of the woman who died as a result of inhalation anthrax. This is an event of concern and the president is discussing it with his team," Fleischer said.
In an afternoon press briefing at the White House, Fleischer said a co-worker of Nguyen has a suspicious lesion that has been tested. There are no results yet, he said.
"Somebody is trying to kill the American people by sending anthrax through the mail," Fleischer said. "The president believes the actions of the government have saved lives. He regrets that these attacks have resulted in the loss of anybody's life."
The latest victims raised the number of confirmed anthrax cases to 17 nationwide since the outbreak began in early October. Ten contracted the inhaled form, including the four who died. The others have less-severe skin infections.
Also on Wednesday, a post office spokesman said a post office employee at a regional mail facility in Bellmawr, N.J. was suspected to have skin anthrax.
The Bellmawr facility is in Camden County, about 35 miles from the Hamilton postal facility which handled at least three anthrax-tainted letters.
Earlier Wednesday, Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco told Fox News that the employee tested positive for skin anthrax. A spokesman for the Health Department said the office did not have any information on the case.
In Indiana, anthrax spores were found on a piece of postal equipment sent to an Indianapolis center for cleaning from a contaminated mail processing center in Washington.
Gov. Frank O'Bannon said that one positive test for anthrax had been found after 44 tests on equipment at the Critical Parts Center. The equipment tested had been exposed to equipment in Washington and had been sent to the Indiana facility for cleaning, O'Bannon said.
"The exposure was very limited. At this level of exposure, anthrax is not a threat to human health in Indiana," O'Bannon said.
Meanwhile, preliminary tests on trash at the specialized Kansas City postal facility were positive for anthrax, health officials said Wednesday night.
"I want to stress that there are no individuals that are infected, that we are taking more precautionary and prudent measures," said Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department.
The positive samples came from two trash bags containing material from employees' wastebaskets in one section of the Stamp Fulfillment Services Center, manager Gary Stone said. The Centers for Disease Control is planning further tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.