Nevada officials say second anthrax test negative

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- State officials sounded an anthrax alert in Reno on Friday, but later said tests for anthrax in pornographic material sent in a letter from Malaysia to a Microsoft office were inconclusive.

Initial tests on the materials were tentatively found to be positive for the potentially deadly germ. A second test was negative and a third test was pending.

State and county health officials interpreted the results differently.

"The risk appears to be very low. We do not have a confirmed case of anthrax," said Barbara Hunt, Washoe County district health officer. Hunt said results from a third and conclusive test should be available today.

"Originally, when the governor released his press release, at that point, it looked like probably it would be anthrax," Hunt said at a news conference Friday night.

"With our latest test results, it is probably not anthrax. We will not know for sure until tomorrow morning," she said.

"Our investigation is ongoing so we don't have all the tests back at this point."

Dr. Randy Todd, state epidemiologist, said he was encouraged by the second test, but was not backing off from his original statement that it was a "presumptive anthrax" case.

He said he first needed to see the results of a third test on Saturday.

"We can't rule it out until we have the third test completed," Todd said. "It's still presumptive anthrax."

Officials said additional tests were being conducted at a state Health Division laboratory to confirm the presence of anthrax on the material. Also, health teams were contacting Microsoft employees to determine who might have handled the letter.

Gov. Kenny Guinn confirmed the letter had been sent to the Microsoft Licensing Inc. office and that it had come from Malaysia. He said Microsoft officials contacted health officials Wednesday.

Microsoft Corp. spokesman Matt Pilla in Redmond, Wash., said the Reno licensing office has fewer than 100 employees.

"We are taking this situation very seriously, and we are working closely with appropriate law enforcement and health officials," he said.

Todd said the Washoe County Health Department and the FBI are involved in the investigation, which began after one company employee got a returned letter that "just didn't look right."

Todd said the letter had been opened and appeared to have been moistened and then dried out. The governor said Microsoft had sent a check in the letter to a vendor in Malaysia, and the check was still in the letter, along with the pornographic material. The vendor wasn't identified.

Todd said that in the initial testing "we got a number of things growing, including bacillus, the genus to which anthrax belongs." He said that test produced results "consistent with it being anthrax."

Anthrax, whether the inhaled or skin variety, is caused by spores of Bacillus anthraces, the anthrax bacteria that are mainly a livestock disease. The infection is hard to diagnose and difficult to cure once symptoms start.

Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin said public attention to terrorist threats apparently paid off in his city.

"Thank God the average citizen now has a heightened level of awareness," Griffin said. "They saw something suspicious and reported it to the proper authorities. Now, the appropriate agencies are taking over."

In Las Vegas, police sealed a City Hall driveway around a small black station wagon for about an hour Friday for another anthrax scare, which turned out to be a false alarm.

The FBI tested a letter mailed from the Boca Raton, Fla., office of The Sun supermarket tabloid and received at the North Las Vegas office of a tabloid newspaper distribution company, Detective Todd Rosenberg said.

"They get (mail) every day from this company," Rosenberg said. "He brought it in because of the fact that it came from the same agency."

A photo editor at the Boca Raton office died last week, traces of anthrax were found in that company's mailroom and two other employees have been found to have anthrax in their nasal passages.

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