The two ?mystery? cases of anthrax that killed an elderly woman in Connecticut and another woman in the Bronx, may have been caused by spores blown on the wind from the Trenton, New Jersey postal center where anthrax-laced letters were processed in October. If this is the case, the fear that anthrax was carried widely across the country by contaminated mail may not be true.

These two anthrax deaths were not associated with contaminated mail. The places where the two women lived?the Bronx in New York City and Oxford, Connecticut?both lie on a straight line running 47 degrees northeast from Trenton.

Martin Furmanski, a researcher in Newport Beach, California, says this exactly matches the wind direction on October 9 of between 220 and 230 degrees. This is the day the anthrax-laced letters were processed in Trenton. The wind was also ?brisk? that day, at between 7 and 13 miles per hour.

There was also a major temperature inversion that night, which would have trapped air masses close to the ground. He estimates that contaminated air under these conditions would have covered an area about 2 ? miles wide. This is the same size as the plume of anthrax dust that killed more than 100 people in Sverdlovsk, Siberia in 1979 after anthrax escaped from a bioweapons plant there. If this is what happened here, 3.6 million people in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut could have been exposed. Military experiments using safe bacilli similar to anthrax have found bacteria more than 450 miles downwind of release sites, says Furmanski. ?Exposures so far downwind would almost certainly be limited to a single spore,? he says. ?But there is good evidence that a single inhaled anthrax spore is capable of causing fatal disease.?

Although there were four different strains in the mixture that escaped at Sverdlovsk, seven of the 11 cases in which the anthrax was genetically analyzed were infected by bacilli of only one strain. This suggests that the infections stemmed from only one inhaled spore.

Martin Hugh-Jones of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, who analyzed the release at Sverdlovsk, calls the theory ?a long shot? and says that Furmanski?s calculations predict that the contaminated plume would have arrived in Oxford, Connecticut between 4 and 6 am, when Ottilie Lundgren, the 94-year-old victim, was unlikely to be outdoors.

But it?s almost certain that anthrax spores were released into the air at Trenton. Two workers there contracted inhalational anthrax, and a woman working at an unrelated office nearby developed the cutaneous [skin] version of the disease. Furmanski suggests that the medical records of people downwind of Trenton should be analyzed to see if any possible anthrax cases were missed.

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