Third Anthrax test on letter to Microsoft awaited

RENO: A second, more sensitive test on a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office has come back negative for anthrax, state officials said. A third test was planned for on Saturday.

No one has tested positive for the disease or become ill, officials said. State and county health officials interpreted the results differently.

"With our latest test results, it is probably not anthrax," said Barbara Hunt, Washoe County district health officer. "The risk appears to be very low."

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

He said he would need to see the results of a third test before drawing a conclusion, "We can't rule it out until we have the third test," Todd said. "It's still presumptive anthrax."

Public health investigators were contacting Microsoft employees to determine who might have handled the letter, which contained pornographic material.

National spokesman Samsudin Ali said Malaysian police were unaware that a letter posted from Malaysia had tentatively tested positive to anthrax.

He said Saturday that as far as he was aware, US authorities had not contacted Malaysian police about the letter.

Governor Kenny Guinn confirmed the letter had been sent to the Microsoft Licensing Inc. office. He said Microsoft officials contacted health officials Wednesday.

Todd said the country health department and the FBI were involved in the investigation, which began after one company employee got a returned letter that "just didn't look right."

The governor said Microsoft had sent a check in the letter to an unidentified vendor in Malaysia. The letter had been opened and returned to Microsoft, including the check. Pornographic material also was included. The contents appeared to have been moistened and dried, officials said.

Todd said the initial test on the letter's contents "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."

The subsequent test was more specific to anthrax, but came back negative, officials said. The third test will use another approach to specifically look for anthrax, they said.

Microsoft Corp. spokesman Matt Pilla in Redmond, Washington, said he had not heard about the letter.
( AP )