Caribbean postal services on anthrax alert By Denis Chabrol
Guyana Chronicle
October 20, 2001

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, (CMC) - Caribbean postal services are on alert for the deadly anthrax virus being found in mail packages around the world in apparent retaliation to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, a regional postal security task force official said yesterday.

The state-run Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC), which is responsible for security on the executive of the security task force, has already dispatched advisories across the region.

"What we are doing here is that we are taking preventative action to see that none of our employees is affected," GPOC Postmaster General Edward Noble told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

Mail handlers at post offices in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are among those wearing gloves and masks to prevent skin and respiratory exposure to anthrax.

"Everybody seems to be doing something because this is a serious thing," Noble added.

The Caribbean's response is partly linked to a 'Suspicious Mail Alert' advisory issued by the United States Postal Services.

Guidelines issued by the U.S. Postal Services state that all mail must be handled with care and handlers must not shake or bump them, staff must not open, smell, touch or taste a package that looks suspicious, and if any mail package appears to be suspicious, it must be isolated immediately and the local enforcement authority must be called in.

Leading members of the regional postal security task force are Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The anthrax scare began in the U.S. with the death of a photo editor at American Media in Boca Raton, the United States, and grew with a flurry of suspicious letters.

Two letters containing substances contaminated by the dangerous bacteria were mailed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office.

Anthrax is made into a weapon by placing a few cells of the anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) in a dish or vat of nutrients, easily available from laboratory supply houses.

The cells multiply until the nutrients are gone. Sensing starvation, the cells form spores, tough little pellets that last for decades.

To make as a weapon, these spores are freeze-dried, mixed with a detergent or other substance to keep them from clumping, and ground into a fine powder.