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Investigators scour anthrax victim's home



OXFORD, Connecticut (CNN) -- Investigators conducted an "inch-by-inch" search of a Connecticut widow's home in this quiet New England town Thursday, looking for clues to determine how she contracted inhalation anthrax, which killed her one day before Thanksgiving.

Ottilie Lundgren, 94, became the nation's fifth anthrax fatality since letters laced with the deadly bacteria began turning up in the mail last month.

Although authorities have not announced finding any suspicious letter or package in her home, investigators were operating on the premise the mail may again be the source of contamination.

Authorities sealed off Lundgren's home in this town of about 2,000 people in southwest Connecticut and looked into her background for clues that might help crack this latest anthrax mystery.

"This morning, the FBI, the CDC and a hazardous response unit of the FBI have entered the residence of the victim," taking some items from it, said J. Paul Vance, a Connecticut state trooper.

"Their intention this morning is to do an actual grid search of the entire residence," Vance said. "That's an inch-by-inch search [to] take swabbings and any investigatory material," Vance said.

The FBI is treating the case as a criminal investigation. Lisa Bull, an FBI agent in New Haven, said an autopsy on Lundgren had been completed, but some tests were still being conducted and no results were released.

FBI agents interviewed Lundgren's family members, friends and neighbors, "trying to button down a timeline going back approximately 30 days" for her, Bull said.

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Death of 94-year-old Connecticut woman from inhalation anthrax has investigators baffled. CNN's Brian Cabell reports (November 22)

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18 total anthrax infections
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  • 7 cases cutaneous anthrax

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    Jim Cari, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman, said results of environmental testing on the two postal facilities that would have handled Lundgren's mail may be announced Friday.

    Mail to Lundgren's home would have come through the Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford and then to the Seymour Post Office, Cari said.

    The Wallingford center employs about 1,150 people and Seymour about 50. Cari said the majority of the employees in both places are taking a 10-day course of Cipro.

    Fred Raymond, Lundgren's mail carrier, did not answer his telephone Thursday, but a message on his answering machine expressed condolences to Lundgren's family. It also said he was feeling fine and was taking Cipro.

    Gov. John Rowland said Wednesday the two facilities were checked for anthrax as recently as November 11 and "both of them came up clean."

    Lundgren died Wednesday at Griffin Hospital in Derby, the same day the CDC confirmed she had inhalation anthrax. She became the nation's 18th such case since early October. There have been 11 inhalation cases and seven cutaneous, or skin, cases.

    Her case puzzles investigators because she had no known connection to government offices, postal facilities or news outlets, which have been tied to all but two of the other 17 cases.

    The CDC said Wednesday evening the anthrax strain that infected Lundgren is indistinguishable from the strain detected in the other cases. A CDC spokeswoman said the strain responds to all antibiotics used against it.

    Suffering from an upper-respiratory tract infection, Lundgren was taken Friday by a family member to the Griffin Hospital emergency room in Derby, said Patrick Charmel, the hospital's president.

    Based on her symptoms, including a rapid deterioration in her condition, doctors suspected anthrax within hours and began conducting tests and treating her for the illness, Charmel said.

    Doctors said the woman's advanced age complicated efforts to save her.

    One possibility investigators were considering is that Lundgren may have received a piece of contaminated mail from Washington, where several government offices -- including a large postal distribution center -- have been contaminated with anthrax.

    Another angle investigators were exploring is whether Lundgren, who led a limited social life, had anything in common or crossed paths with Kathy Nguyen, a New York City hospital worker whose death from inhalation anthrax also perplexes authorities because of no known connection to government or media venues.

    FBI agents on the Lundgren case have met with those on the Nguyen case to compare notes, Bull said, but they have found no links.



     
     
     
     


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