An artist who worked with untreated animal skins has become the first person for more than 30 years to die in Britain from anthrax.

Christopher "Pascal" Norris died in July after he became infected with the deadly spores that health officials suspect he contracted from the imported skins he used to make drums, sculptures and decorative artefacts.

Yesterday, the home where Mr Norris, 50, lived alone near Hawick in the Scottish Borders was sealed off by health officials searching for any more spores.

Twenty people, who may have been in touch with the skins, are being sought by NHS Borders. Another 10 people have already been prescribed precautionary antibiotics by NHS Borders."To put this in perspective, this is the first death from anthrax that has occurred in the UK for something like 30 years, so it is a very unusual situation," said NHS Borders' medical director, Dr Ross Cameron. "There is no risk to the public - it's an isolated case."

Mr Norris, who survived leukaemia four years ago, became ill early last month and died on 8 July in hospital after developing septicaemia. It was only after a series of tests at laboratories in England that doctors were able to identify anthrax as the most likely cause.

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It most commonly occurs in animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, which become infected after ingesting the spores in soil, where it can remain dormant for up to 50 years. The disease can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals.

The last case of anthrax in Britain was in 1987 and involved a girl who later recovered.The last known death was in 1971, a 48-year-old woman from Scotland.