The woman, Ottilie Lundgren, was admitted to the hospital five days ago. Doctors at nearby Griffin Hospital in Derby said they immediately administered antibiotics once preliminary tests showed Lundgren may have been exposed to anthrax spores.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta confirmed preliminary tests early this morning came back positive for anthrax. Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said the FBI investigation is focusing its attention on Lundgren’s mail.
“At her age she has not traveled a great deal,” the governor said, “so that’s why the suspicions lead directly to mail and cross-contamination of some sort.”
Dr. Lydia Barakat said a relative brought Lundgren to the hospital Friday after the elderly widow exhibited respiratory problems for two days. Lundgren was immediately placed on antibiotics when early tests showed a possibility of anthrax exposure.
The new case, like that of Kathy Nguyen, a Bronx hospital worker who died Oct. 31 from inhalation anthrax, has baffled investigators. The two women lived alone, were not known to travel, and were not members of the current high-risk groups: the media, government employees in Washington, or postal workers who may have been exposed to contaminated mail.
The Connecticut case brings to four the number of inhalation cases in the New York area. Two postal workers in New Jersey contracted the disease and were successfully treated and released from hospitals.
Teams of investigators from the CDC, the FBI and the Connecticut state police are scouring the victim’s home for anthrax traces and interviewing friends and neighbors to try to determine her recent activities. Investigators say the chances she contracted the disease from natural sources are slim.
“We’re also working with the two postal facilities in Wallingford and Seymour,” Gov. Rowland said. Investigators are interviewing some 1,500 postal employees who handle mail to Oxford, and they are being given antibiotics.
The governor called Mrs. Lundgren’s case “an anomaly” and urged public calm.
“It is weird that a 94-year-old woman in Oxford would possibly have anthrax,” Rowland said.
“I’m shocked because I’m trying to figure how it could have occurred, and that alarms me,” he said. “I will do all I can along with our public safety officials and any other leads we can get from this preliminary investigation and follow up to make sure people are safe.”
Oxford, Connecticut is a primarily rural town in the Naugatuck River Valley. Residents said they were shocked by the news that bioterrorism had struck their small community.
More anthrax discovered in Washington, D.C.
In Washington yesterday, Capitol police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols announced that traces of anthrax spores had been found in the offices of Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
The number of spores is so low, according to Dr. John F. Eisold, the Capitol physician, that no treatment was recommended for the staff members who work in the contaminated offices.
“We don’t view this as a public health risk,” Dr. Eisold said. “We have a lot of experience this time.”
The Kennedy and Dodd offices are located in the Russell Senate Office Building, across the street from the Hart Building, where Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) received a contaminated letter in October.
In addition, Education Department officials reported today that small amounts of anthrax were found in the agency’s mail room. Officials describe the amounts as “low-level,” and say they’re not considered dangerous to staff. The mail facility was sealed and its ventilation system shut down.
Meanwhile, investigators said they discovered billions of spores in a letter addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) discovered in a mail sorting facility in Virginia. The letter was found in a batch of impounded mail taken before it could be delivered to its recipients.
Anthrax has claimed four lives since Oct. 4, when a Florida man died of inhaled anthrax. Since then, health officials have been run ragged by reports of hundreds of exposures to the bacteria, real or fake.