Anthrax linked to heroin user's death

A drug user who was left fighting for life after injecting heroin contaminated with anthrax died today, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

It is the fifth case of an injecting drug user in England becoming ill with anthrax, a bacterial infection more often seen in wild and domestic animals in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe.



Heroin users who experience general illness or signs of infection, including redness or excessive swelling, are being urged by health officials to seek urgent medical advice.



The HPA said the patient, whose sex, age and identity have not been disclosed, died this afternoon in a hospital in Kent but that there was no risk to the wider public.



Dr Mathi Chandrakumar, director of Kent Health Protection Unit, said: "This is a sad outcome but I would like to repeat that there is no risk to the general population, including close family members of the patient.



"It is extremely unlikely that this form of anthrax can spread from person to person."



Cases of anthrax infection have been seen in Scotland since December last year, with 47 cases confirmed along with one in Germany.



The HPA said similarities to the cases in Scotland suggest that the heroin or a contaminated cutting agent mixed with the Class A drug is the likely source of this latest infection.



Dr Chandrakumar said: "We continue to see occasional cases among injecting drug users, following a cluster of cases earlier this year.



"Exposure to anthrax is now one of a number of risks that drug users are exposed to.



"All heroin users should seek urgent medical advice if they experience signs of infection such as redness or excessive swelling at or near an injection site, or other symptoms of general illness such a high temperature, chills or a severe headache or breathing difficulties, as early antibiotic treatment can be lifesaving."



Dr Chandrakumar said friends and family who are concerned about someone can contact their GP, social services and local drug teams.

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