Woman in rural Connecticut town tests positive for anthrax

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Associated Press WriterOXFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Federal health officials confirmed early Wednesday that an elderly woman is infected with inhalation anthrax, baffling authorities who see no immediate connection between this rural town and bioterror attacks in New York, Washington and Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the anthrax case after conducting five sophisticated tests at the hospital and state health laboratory, Gov. John G. Rowland said.

A family member identified the woman as 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren. She was in critical condition early Wednesday at Griffin Hospital in Derby, in southwestern Connecticut.

Rowland said there was no indication the woman is related to any government official or member of the media or had any public activity that would cause her to be a target of terrorism.

"It's difficult to explain how the person contracted anthrax," Rowland said. "There is no evidence (she) contracted the disease as a result of a criminal act."

The FBI and state police are conducting a criminal investigation, Rowland said. He said the woman lives by herself in a rural area about 30 miles southwest of Hartford and has a limited routine.

Recent cases of anthrax have centered on letters sent to high-profile people in major cities: television anchors, members of the media and members of Congress.

Four people have died -- two Washington postal workers, a hospital employee in New York City and a newspaper photo editor in Florida.

Lundgren was admitted to Griffin Hospital on Friday. Doctors originally suspected pneumonia and tested four vials of blood Saturday for the presence of bacteria.

When those came back positive, the hospital conducted additional tests that showed the bacteria matched the properties of anthrax, said Dr. Stephanie Wain, who runs the hospital's lab.

Police cars blocked the neighborhood Tuesday surrounding Lundgren's modest ranch-style home. Hazardous materials teams were called to the scene.

"It doesn't seem like something of this magnitude should happen in a town like this," said John Dunleavey, 23, who grew up in the neighborhood. "Normally you don't see this kind of action in town."

Lundgren's niece, Shirley Davis, told The Hartford Courant her aunt no longer drives. "She went to the hairdresser's and to (church) when she was up to it. I nearly fainted when the doctors told me they suspected anthrax."

U.S. Postal Service spokesman Jim Cari said mail to Oxford goes through a processing center in Wallingford. That center was recently tested for anthrax and showed no sign of contamination, Cari said.

Oxford, a town of less than 10,000 residents about 70 miles from New York City, has one bank and no hotel, according to the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

"It is weird that a 94-year-old woman in Oxford would possibly have anthrax," Rowland said. "(But) there's no rhyme or reason to what's happened over the last eight weeks, either."

Associated Press writers Stephen Singer, Matthew Daly and Diane Scarponi contributed to this report.

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