HARTFORD, Connecticut - A 94-year-old woman from a rural Connecticut town has become the fifth person in the United States to die from inhalation anthrax, rekindling fears of the potential germ warfare agent.

Ottilie Lundgren, who lived alone in the rural town of Oxford, died overnight (NZ time) five days after she was admitted to Griffin Hospital in nearby Derby, Connecticut.

The latest case of inhalation anthrax, the first in rural America, could revive fears of bioterrorism following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"It's very scary," said Lundgren's neighbour Jodi McCue. "You would never have expected Oxford or a 94-year-old woman who stays at home all the time to ever have something like this happen.

"With terrorism and things that have happened lately, you expect New York to be a target. But Oxford?" she said. "I can't explain it and I'm very scared."

Officials cannot explain it either. Connecticut Governor John Rowland called the case an "anomaly."

"It came as a surprise to us because the patient does not have any of the risk factors," said Dr Howard Quentzel, head of infectious diseases at Griffin Hospital.

As hospital officials announced Lundgren's death, a woman brought a suspicious envelope she feared might contain anthrax to the hospital's emergency room, town officials said. The envelope was sent to the state health department for testing and the hospital's emergency room was closed briefly.

Since early October, four people have died and 13 others have been infected with anthrax, a livestock disease that can be used as a germ warfare agent.

Investigators have still not determined who is behind the attacks. But Attorney General John Ashcroft has indicated that authorities are leaning toward a domestic source.

Rowland said state troopers working with the FBI and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention were examining Lundgren's home trying to find the source of the deadly bacteria.

- REUTERS

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