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Last Updated

26 Jun 2003

Source: Associated Press, March 27, 2002

Elderly anthrax victim may have been infected by tearing up contaminated junk mail

ATLANTA (AP) -- The 94-year-old Connecticut woman (case 23) who died of inhalation anthrax last fall may have been infected by ripping her junk mail in half, releasing deadly spores into the air, health officials said.

Investigators have never given a conclusive explanation for Ottilie Lundgren's death Nov. 21, one of five since anthrax-laden letters were mailed to media and political offices in the fall. But they have long suspected cross-contamination of her mail.

About 80 percent of Lundgren's mail was bulk delivery, some of which passed through the same Trenton, New Jersey, postal facility that handled contaminated letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, said Connecticut's state epidemiologist Dr. James Hadler.

Lundgren's habit of tearing junk mail in half before discarding it may have released enough spores into the air to infect her, Hadler said.

Health officials do not know precisely how many anthrax spores must be inhaled to cause a deadly infection. But they have said the elderly and people with weak immune systems may be more vulnerable.

Testing on 449 samples from Lundgren's home and places she visited turned up no anthrax spores.

Connecticut health officials reported the junk-mail theory at an infectious-disease conference held by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The conference concluded Wednesday.