Preliminary tests have found no evidence of anthrax in the personal mail, mailbox or post office of an elderly Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax this week, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said today.
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Ottilie Lundgren, 94, was the fifth person to die of inhalation anthrax this year but appears to have no immediate connection to the others who died.
Rowland said the preliminary tests show nothing positive. "So far all samples have tested negative," he said.
However, more samples from Lundgren's home and other locations she frequented are still pending.
Investigators searched her belongings on Thursday to find out how she contracted the inhaled form of the disease, and had suspected it may have been cross-contaminated by an anthrax-laced letter. "Testing was focused on the so-called mail trail," the places where the mail had been, like the postbox and the garbage can, Rowland said.
Investigators are now turning to her friends, trying to piece together a picture of her life in the weeks before Nov. 16, when she was admitted to a hospital with flu-like symptoms.
The CDC, FBI and state are working on the case.
Officials are at a particular loss to explain how and where Lundgren came in contact with the deadly bacteria, because she was a retired woman who lived a sedentary lifestyle, rarely going out except for trips to church and the local beauty parlor.
Investigators have also contacted Nu-Look, the beauty salon she regularly visited.
Because Lundgren lived alone on a farm in Oxford, Conn., about 20 miles from New Haven, doctors initially thought she could have become infected from a natural source.
Only 18 cases of natural inhalation anthrax have been recorded in the last 100 years, said Lisa Swenarski, a spokeswoman for CDC, so the Oxford case is "most likely the result of a criminal act."
Rowland echoed her suspicions, and said today, "I would pursue this as some kind of cross-contamination."
Dr. Kenneth Dobuler, chief of medicine at Griffin Hospital, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America on Thursday that "further questioning from her family, her friends and the patient herself did not show any evidence that she had come into contact with cows, sheep, goats or any other potential environmental source."
A spokesman for the CDC said testing so far has shown that the strain of anthrax that killed Lundgren was similar to anthrax found in other recent cases.
But Thompson said on Wednesday he did not know whether Lundgren could have been the latest victim in the wave of anthrax attacks that infected 17 previous people or the first victim in another series of infections.
First, he said, investigators have to find out how she was exposed to the deadly bacteria.
"Until we have a better idea of exposure, we cannot determine whether her disease fits into a certain pattern," Thompson said. "We are exploring every possible route."
Protest at the Post Office
Amid concerns over the disease, postal workers who may have handled Lundgren's mail and a niece who looked after the elderly woman were being treated with antibiotics.
About 1,150 postal workers at the two post offices in the area were offered a 10-day regimen of the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution, and about three-quarters had accepted the drug, postal officials said.