DERBY, Conn. — A 94-year-old woman from rural Connecticut died of inhalation anthrax Wednesday, five days after she was admitted to a hospital. The source of her infection, distant from other recent bioterror attacks, remained a mystery.
Ottilie Lundgren died at 10:32 a.m., a Griffin Hospital official said. The retired widow was brought to the Derby hospital Friday suffering from an apparent respiratory infection after falling ill a couple of days earlier.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the infection after similar test results at the hospital and state health laboratory, Gov. John G. Rowland said.
Doctors at the hospital had suspected anthrax shortly after she was admitted. The CDC was expected to conduct an autopsy.
Lundgren lived by herself in a modest ranch-style home in Oxford, about 30 miles southwest of Hartford.
"It doesn't seem like something of this magnitude should happen in a town like this," said John Dunleavey, 23, who grew up in the neighborhood.
Lundgren's niece, Shirley Davis, told The Hartford Courant that her aunt had stopped driving. "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."
Rowland said the early investigation was focusing on the mail, considered the source of most other anthrax cases. The woman's whereabouts over the last few weeks were also being researched.
The governor said there was no indication the woman is related to any government official or member of the media or had any public activity that would cause her to be a target of terrorism.
Four other people have died two Washington postal workers, a hospital employee in New York City and a newspaper photo editor in Florida since the anthrax scare began early last month. Six other people fell ill with the inhaled form of the disease, while others had the milder skin form of the disease.
With the exception of the New York hospital worker, whose case is also a mystery, recent cases of anthrax have centered on letters sent to media outlets and members of Congress.
Doctors at Griffin Hospital said Lundgren already had been ill for two days when she was admitted last week.
"Any elderly patient will have a hard time fighting any kind of infection, even the most common type of bacterial infection," Dr. Lydia Barakat said at a news conference.
Doctors initially suspected pneumonia and tested Lundgren's blood Saturday. When bacteria were detected, additional tests showed it matched the properties of anthrax, said Dr. Stephanie Wain, who runs the hospital's lab.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman Jim Cari said mail to Oxford goes through a processing center in Wallingford. That center was recently tested for anthrax and showed no sign of contamination, Cari said.
Rowland said that health authorities would provide antibiotics as a precaution for 1,000 employees at the Wallingford and at a post office in Seymour.
Oxford, a town of less than 10,000 residents about 70 miles from New York City, has one bank and no hotel, according to the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.
"It is weird that a 94-year-old woman in Oxford would possibly have anthrax," Rowland said. "(But) there's no rhyme or reason to what's happened over the last eight weeks, either."
Lundgren was a retired legal secretary. Her husband, Carl, a city judge, died in 1977.
"She was baptized and she was a believer. She belonged to Jesus and she is safe in his grace," said her pastor, the Rev. Richard Miesel of Immanuel Lutheran Church.