Thursday, November 22, 2001

Federal authorities are mystified about how an elderly Connecticut widow who died from inhalation anthrax yesterday came into contact with the deadly bacteria.
Ottiliee Lundgren, 94, a retired legal secretary who lived alone in the rural town of Oxford, Conn., became the fifth U.S. fatality of inhalation anthrax, the most deadly form of the disease. She had no apparent connections with anthrax-infected sites in New York and the Washington area.
“It came as a surprise to us because the patient does not have any of the risk factors,” said Dr. Howard Quentzel, head of infectious diseases at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
As hospital officials announced Mrs. Lundgren’s death yesterday morning, a woman brought a suspicious envelope she feared might contain anthrax spores to the hospital’s emergency room. Town officials later said preliminary tests on the envelope were negative for anthrax exposure.
Federal law enforcement agents said Mrs. Lundgren’s case in some ways resembles that of a New York hospital worker who died last month from inhalation anthrax, noting that the three other persons who have died from the disease had direct contact with tainted mail at their workplaces. Six other persons who have contract inhalation anthrax have recovered.
Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland said law enforcement and health officials combed Mrs. Lundgren’s modest ranch home yesterday under the suspicion she became infected through “some sort of crosscontamination” from mail.
“They’re trying to trace the whereabouts of this woman over the last several weeks,” he said. “At her age, she did not travel a great deal. So that’s why the suspicions lead directly to the mail.”
The U.S. Postal Service said mail to Oxford goes through a processing center in Wallingford, Conn., which recently was tested for anthrax exposure and showed no sign of contamination.
Friends of Mrs. Lundgren’s yesterday said that although she was not very mobile, she had a strong interest in working in her garden a detail that could help investigators determine the source of the anthrax that killed her.
“I know she’s a gardener,” said Ann Cummings, who works in the Oxford Town Hall. Miss Cummings said Mrs. Lundgren lived near Route 67 in Oxford, about three miles from a dairy farm.
Health officials have said anthrax can commonly be found where people raise livestock. Animals contract anthrax by grazing on soils naturally contaminated with the bacteria.
Before the postal anthrax attacks began last month, inhalation anthrax was reported to be extremely rare in the United States.
Mrs. Lundgren’s case is the second within a month without any apparent connection to the anthrax-laced mail.
Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yesterday said it is not likely that inhalation anthrax is more common than health officials originally thought, and that doctors had been overlooking cases.
Health officials have said a person must inhale between 8,000 to 10,000 microscopic anthrax spores to contract the inhalation form of the disease. That number of spores can fit on the head of a pin.
Pat Deangelis, who works in Oxford’s town library, where Mrs. Lundgren was a “regular customer,” said he and other librarians were searching for answers about how their friend got anthrax. “It probably had something to do with the farm,” Mr. Deangelis said.
The FBI’s field office in New Haven, Conn., yesterday had not ruled out that possibility.
“It’s absolutely within the scope of something we’ll be looking at,” FBI spokeswoman Lisa Bull said. “We’re looking at anything she may have come into contact with.”
CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said yesterday “in terms of [that] theory, we are keeping an open mind. We’re not ruling out any possibilities.”
Mrs. Lundgren died at 10:32 a.m., five days after she was admitted to Griffin Hospital in Derby with a respiratory infection, the hospital’s president, Patrick Charmel, said at a news conference.
Doctors at the hospital, who initially suspected pneumonia, determined it was anthrax after blood tests Saturday.
Meanwhile, federal officials continue to examine a suspicious letter sent to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, that was found Friday in a bag of quarantined congressional mail.
Tests of air and materials surrounding the letter at an Army lab in Fort Detrick, Md., suggest it contains billions of anthrax spores enough to kill thousands of people, FBI officials told The Washington Post.
U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko on Tuesday told The Washington Times the Leahy letter initially was misrouted on Oct. 12 to a State Department mail facility in Sterling, Va., where a worker contracted inhalation anthrax.
The misrouting explains why the letter never reached Mr. Leahy and may explain the high concentration of anthrax spores found in the Sterling facility, he said.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide