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Mystery Anthrax Deaths Could Yield Major Clues

U.S. health officials say that Ottilie Lundgren, a 94-year-old woman from Connecticut, has died of inhalation anthrax, the deadliest form of the disease. No one can figure out how she contracted the disease, since she lived by herself in a small ranch house in Oxford, a town of less than 10,000 residents about 70 miles from New York City, with one bank and no hotel.

Lundgren?s niece, Shirley Davis, says her aunt no longer drove her car and rarely went out. ?She went to the hairdresser?s and to (church) when she was up to it. I nearly fainted when the doctors told me they suspected anthrax.?

?It doesn?t seem like something of this magnitude should happen in a town like this,? says John Dunleavey, 23, who grew up in the neighborhood. `?Normally you don?t see this kind of action in town.? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the case after she tested positive for the disease in five separate tests carried out by the local health authorities. Connecticut governor John Rowland admits, ?It?s difficult to explain how the person contracted anthrax. There is no evidence (she) contracted the disease as a result of a criminal act?It is weird that a 94-year-old woman in Oxford would possibly have anthrax (but) there?s no rhyme or reason to what?s happened over the last eight weeks, either.?

As an elderly person, Lundgren no doubt had a weakened immune system and was therefore more susceptible to the disease. ?Personally, we didn?t want to be overreacting to the results, but as physicians, we also are supposed to give the best possible care to patients,? says hospital doctor Lydia Barakat. While anthrax spores are sometimes found in soil, they would only be present in an area containing cattle and it would not be possible to catch inhalation anthrax with that type of exposure.

This is the second mysterious anthrax death. The first was a middle-aged female hospital worker who lived in the Bronx. Her workplace tested negative for anthrax and no one else in her apartment building was affected. She was a Vietnamese immigrant with no links to Islam or any terrorist groups. All the other anthrax victims worked in the media or for the government or the post office.

These mystery deaths may give investigators clues about where the anthrax came from and how it was transported before it was put into envelopes and mailed. Since no more tainted letters have been received in the past few weeks (the one that was recently discovered was mailed weeks ago), these cases may also lead the FBI to places where excess, unused anthrax has been dumped or stored.

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