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Anthrax found on letter sent to Connecticut town

Friday, November 30, 2001

Associated Press WriterHARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Investigators searching for the source of the anthrax that killed a 94-year-old woman last week have found the germ on a letter sent to a home in a nearby town, Gov. John Rowland said Friday.

The governor said a direct connection had not been made between the letter sent to Seymour and the anthrax victim, 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren. She died Nov. 21 at her home in Oxford, three miles from Seymour.

Rowland said the amount of anthrax was tiny.

"It was so insignificant that no one in contact with the letter could have gotten anthrax or even become ill," he said.

Investigators still don't know how the retired widow who rarely left home came in contact with the anthrax that killed her.

One possibility under close scrutiny is cross-contamination of mail with anthrax-laden letters sent to political and media figures in Washington, D.C., and New York.

Using bar codes printed on the envelopes, authorities have been able to determine that a small amount of mail destined for the Oxford area passed through the same New Jersey postal facility that handled contaminated letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy in Washington.

None of those letters went to Lundgren. But it is possible her mail came in contact with a letter that was contaminated at the center near Trenton, N.J.

"Supposition on my part is that Mrs. Lundgren, at age 94, had an immune system far less than yours or mine, and that you and I could have handled her same piece of mail and not gotten sick," Rowland said.

Cross-contamination in the mail is believed responsible for the skin anthrax infection of a New Jersey accountant. Lundgren died of the much more serious and rarer inhaled form of the disease.

Investigators with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Connecticut health department have taken dozens of environmental samples from places Lundgren visited in the two months before she was infected.

The presence of anthrax in any of those places could help explain how and where she was exposed.

Among the places tested: Lundgren's mail, her mailbox, her neighbor's mail, area post offices, her church, doctor's office and a beauty shop.

Until now, all the tests had come back negative for anthrax. But more results were pending.

"While we have done many environmental tests, we are certainly not finished," said Dr. David Swerdlow, who is coordinating the Connecticut investigation for the CDC.

Investigators were also looking for any similarities to the baffling case of a 61-year-old New York woman who died Oct. 31 from inhaling anthrax. Both women lived alone and spent a lot of time by themselves.

In the New York case, puzzled investigators have yet to report any positive environmental samples.

In Washington, the Bush administration said it was sticking by its $1.5 billion request for bioterrorism preparation, even as its top health officials and key senators suggested twice that much was needed.

Bioterrorism must compete with other funding priorities, meaning everything cannot be paid for in the coming year, said Bill Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"You have to deal with the real world here," Pierce said Thursday, promising more money in future years.

CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan was asked at a Senate hearing how much money was needed this year, and he listed needs totaling $3 billion.

For instance, while President Bush has asked for about a half-billion dollars to buy smallpox vaccine, Koplan said even more -- $600 million to $700 million -- was needed to help local and state officials store it and learn how to use it properly.

Other needs include stockpiling antibiotics, upgrading state and local health departments and improving lab security.

Pierce said Koplan was simply offering his "wish list." But several lawmakers suggested the president would be shortchanging the problem if he didn't agree to much more substantial spending.

"God help the American people if we have a biological attack and are not prepared, and God help the Congress if it is derelict in its duty," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Also on Capitol Hill, authorities were set to begin a first-of-its-kind fumigation of part of the Hart Senate Office Building, where the anthrax-packed letter to Daschle, the Senate majority leader, was opened last month.

Beginning Friday, they planned to fill Daschle's office with chlorine dioxide gas, while carefully monitoring the air around it to ensure that none of the deadly chemical escapes.

------EDITOR'S NOTE -- Associated Press Writer Laura Meckler in Washington contributed to this report.

------On the Net:

CDC bioterrorism page: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/


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