WASHINGTON (AP) A letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy was laced with billions of anthrax spores, authorities said yesterday, and a suspected case of the most deadly form of the disease mysteriously appeared in Connecticut.

An elderly woman in a rural area of the state preliminarily tested positive for inhalation anthrax, the first suspected case in several weeks.

The woman, in her 90s, was hospitalized in serious condition as authorities awaited additional test results from the federal government.

“It”s difficult to explain how the person contracted anthrax,” Connecticut Gov. John Rowland said. “There is no evidence they contracted the disease as a result of a criminal act.”

In Washington, trace amounts of anthrax were found in the mailrooms of two congressional offices and FBI agents and scientists began their analysis of the Leahy letter found last week.

An FBI microbiologist, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said there were easily billions of anthrax spores in the letter addressed to Leahy. Scientists have said 8,000 to 10,000 spores are enough to infect a person with inhalation anthrax.

An investigator who found the Leahy letter in a bin of unopened congressional mail last Friday night could feel powder inside the envelope, the microbiologist said. A two-minute test of the plastic garbage bag that was used to hold the Leahy letter detected 23,000 anthrax spores, he said.

That letter was postmarked Oct. 9, around the time a similar anthrax-tainted letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

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