This is a file photo of Ottilie Lundgren, the fifth person to die of anthrax in 2001. Federal prosecutors were planning to indict a government scientist in connection with the anthrax deaths, but the man, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, apparently committed suicide. He died July 29, 2008.
(AP Photo/Immanuel Lutheran Church, File)
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE BIOTERROR THREAT; Mystery Death From Anthrax Is Analyzed
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy DENISE GRADY
Published: March 27, 2002
Ottilie Lundgren, the 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax in November, had the habit of tearing her junk mail in half before she threw it away and may have been infected by anthrax spores as she ripped up her bulk mail, a Connecticut health official reported at a medical conference here today.
How Mrs. Lundgren became infected has never been explained, though the mail has always been suspected. But researchers never found spores in her home or anywhere else that she spent time, even though they took 449 samples from her home and 33 other places she visited, including a beauty parlor and a clinic.
Connecticut's state epidemiologist, Dr. James L. Hadler, said that none of Mrs. Lundgren's first-class mail was found to have passed through contaminated postal centers. But 80 percent of her mail was bulk mail, and some of the bulk mail that went to her town, Oxford, passed through the postal center in Trenton that processed the highly contaminated letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick J. Leahy. Connecticut mail may have been cross contaminated in Trenton, and then contaminated machines in Connecticut.
Dr. Hadler said extensive testing of the postal distribution center in Wallingford, Conn., found anthrax spores on 4 of 13 sorting machines. One machine that handled mostly bulk mail had three million spores a month after contaminated mail is thought to have passed through it. On another machine, one of 52 columns of mail bins tested positive for spores -- and it was the same column used for Mrs. Lundgren's mail route.
More than 1,000 postal workers from Wallingford were given a 60-day course of preventive antibiotics.
The question that remains is, Why was Mrs. Lundgren the only person in her town to become infected? Scientists guess that the mail contamination was slight, with too few spores to infect most people. Studies in animals have suggested that a person would have to inhale thousands of spores to become ill. But Mrs. Lundgren may have been especially vulnerable because of her age, and it may have taken very few spores to infect her. However, her death may also mean that the estimates of what makes a lethal dose of spores are not applicable to everyone.
In any case, Dr. Hadler said, he thought it reasonable to advise all people to open their mail gingerly.
Dr. Hadler said the cost of the investigation into Mrs. Lundgren's death was high, though he did not reveal the total.