No antrax found in Conn. woman's mail, mailbox, post office

Friday, November 23, 2001

Associated Press WriterOXFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Preliminary tests on the mail, mail box and home of a 94-year-old woman who died of inhalation anthrax this week have come back negative for the bacteria, Gov. John Rowland said Friday.

The early tests also found no sign of anthrax at the Post Office in Seymour, which handles mail for Oxford, or the Wallingford processing center, which sorts mail for southern Connecticut. Rowland said more conclusive test results for the processing center were pending.

Despite the results, Rowland said the mail was not being ruled out as a possible source of the bacteria that killed Ottilie Lundgren on Wednesday. But he acknowledged some disappointment.

"I can't speak for the federal authorities, but it's frustrating for all of us," he said at a news conference in Hartford.

As federal investigators continued to search for clues in the nation's fifth anthrax fatality, the first case of a deadly strain of the bacteria was reported in mail outside the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta confirmed Thursday that a letter sent from Switzerland to Chile was tainted with anthrax. The letter had been sent to Dr. Antonio Banfi, a pediatrician at a children's hospital in Santiago.

Banfi, who opened the envelope, and 12 others nearby have not tested positive for exposure to anthrax but were being treated as a precaution, according to the Chilean Health Ministry.

Banfi became suspicious because the letter was postmarked in Zurich but marked with a Florida return address, Chilean officials said. No other details were made available.

In Connecticut, law enforcement and health officials are speaking to Lundgren's friends to determine what she did, where she went and who she saw before Nov. 16, when she was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms.

Besides sifting through Lundgren's trash and examining her mail, investigators took environmental samples from the few places Lundgren had visited over the past few weeks in this rural town of 9,800.

Friends and relatives said she seldom left home, except to visit the library, a beauty parlor, doctors' offices and her church. The retired legal secretary lived alone.

Investigators have said that cross-contamination of the mail is a leading theory about how Lundgren contracted the disease.

"But we're really trying to keep an open mind about any possibility," said FBI spokeswoman Lisa Bull.

Coffin said testing so far has shown that the strain of anthrax that killed Lundgren was similar to anthrax found in other recent cases. All but one of the previous fatalities have been linked to tainted mail.

About 50 postal workers at Seymour and more than 1,100 at Wallingford were offered a 10-day regimen of the antibiotic Cipro. About three-fourths of the workers have accepted the drug, postal officials said.

Erik Wexler, executive vice president of MidState Medical Center in Meriden, said the antibiotic was being distributed as a precaution.

In Washington, the president of a major postal employees union said he will advise members to refuse to work in buildings where any trace of anthrax remains.

Two postal workers have died and others have been sickened by anthrax since tainted letters addressed to the news media and members of Congress began appearing. Postal facilities in New Jersey and Washington remain closed for decontamination.

"It's a continuing concern that so much uncertainty continues to exist regarding the source of these infections," said Bill Burrus, president of the 360,000-member American Postal Workers Union.

Nationwide, the Postal Service has tested 278 facilities for anthrax and found some contamination at 21 of them. Nineteen have been decontaminated and reopened.

Because medical experts differ on how much anthrax is needed to cause an infection, Burrus said, "I'm telling my members we will not work in contaminated facilities."

Postal Service Vice President Azeezaly Jaffer said he believed talks were continuing with the unions on how to respond in the event of future contamination.

There have been several reports worldwide of anthrax being found in mail, but most have turned out to be false. They included cases in Kenya, in the Bahamas and at Pakistan's largest newspaper, in which authorities at first said they had found dangerous forms of anthrax in mail but later said further testing found no anthrax.

In Argentina, anthrax spores were discovered in mail, but tests determined that they were a harmless strain of the bacteria.

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