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.
• Protest at the Post Office
• Anthrax Goes International
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.
Meanwhile, the president of the American Postal Workers Union said he planned to tell all its members to refuse to work in buildings where any trace of anthrax remains.
Two Washington postal workers have died since a newspaper photo editor in Florida fell victim to inhalation anthrax in October. The postal workers are believed to have developed the disease after coming in contact with a potent anthrax-laced letter addressed to Sen. Tom Daschle last month.
Aside from the case of Kathy Nguyen, a 61-year-old New York hospital worker who succumbed to the disease on Oct. 31, and Ludgren, all other inhalation anthrax cases have been restricted to people associated with members of the government and the media.
But Bill Burrus, president of the 360,000-member American Postal Workers Union said, "it's a continuing concern that so much uncertainty continues to exist regarding the source of these infections."
"I'm telling my members we will not work in contaminated facilities," he said, because experts differ widely on how much anthrax is needed to cause an infection.
Postal facilities in New Jersey and Washington remain closed for decontamination. Nationwide, the U.S. Postal Service has tested 278 facilities for anthrax and found some contamination at 21 of them. Nineteen have been decontaminated and reopened.
Anthrax Goes International
As the postal service and its workers debated the presence of contamination in their facilities, a doctor at a children's hospital in Santiago, Chile, appeared to be the target of the first case of anthrax by mail outside the United States.
A letter tainted with anthrax was received by Dr. Antonio Banfi, a pediatrician at a children's hospital in Santiago, the CDC said on Thursday.
The Chilean Health Ministry said Banfi, who opened the envelope, and 12 others nearby were tested for exposure to anthrax spores, but the tests came back negative.
They were nevertheless being treated for the disease as a precaution.
Chilean officials said Banfi became suspicious because the letter was postmarked in Zurich but marked with a Florida return address. No other details were made available.
There have been other reports of anthrax-tainted letters being received around the world, but most have turned out to be false alarms — including ones in Kenya, the Bahamas and at Pakistan's largest newspaper.
In Argentina, anthrax spores were discovered in mail, but tests determined that they were a harmless strain of the bacteria.
See a timeline of the anthrax attacks and the investigation.