Addict dies as anthrax infects heroin users

A heroin addict who died in hospital has tested positive for anthrax, health officials said today.

He died at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow yesterday. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said blood tests had shown the presence of the deadly bacteria.

Health officials said another heroin user being treated at the same hospital has also tested positive for anthrax. And a third patient, who is being treated at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, is being tested for anthrax. All three had infections in areas of the body they injected with heroin.

The health board confirmed that the dead drug user was male as is the patient at the Royal Infirmary, while the patient at the Victoria Hospital is a woman.

It is not known if the three cases are directly linked.

The victim is believed to have died from the anthrax infection.

Consultant epidemiologist Dr Colin Ramsay, of Health Protection Scotland, told a press conference in Glasgow: "The evidence is that heroin is prepared in non-sterile circumstances and therefore it is conceivable it could be contaminated by a variety of organisms which could happen naturally if they occur in the environment in which the heroin is prepared.

"We are not suggesting that there is any evidence that someone deliberately added it.

"I think the evidence is that heroin comes from countries where anthrax is more likely in the animal population so the chances of it being in the environment in these countries is higher.

"It's highly conceivable that it could have been contaminated either from the source in the origin country or it could have been contaminated as a consequence of subsequent cutting when it arrived in this country."

Dr Ahmed said: "One of the possibilities is that this bonemeal is used, bonemeal being produced from animals, that could be one of the sources but this is speculation.

"We have no way of knowing how it might have got contaminated."

The outbreak team dealing with the infection will meet again tomorrow to discuss the situation, the health board said.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said its Public Health Protection Unit was now working with the Procurator Fiscal and Strathclyde Police to identify the source of the anthrax.

One possibility being investigated is that contaminated heroin, or an agent used to cut the drug, may be to blame.

Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public health medicine, said the risk to the general public was "negligible".

He said: "I urge all drug-injecting heroin users to be extremely alert and to seek urgent medical advice if they experience an infection.

"While this section of the community need to be on their guard, the risk to the rest of the population, including close family members of the infected cases, is negligible.

"It is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person and there is no significant risk of airborne transmission from one person to another."

Any heroin users admitted to hospital with serious soft-tissue infections now or during the last four weeks will now be investigated for anthrax.

Anthrax was suspected of being responsible for a spate of deaths among Scottish heroin addicts in 2000.

New Scientist magazine reported that tests at the UK biological defence lab in Porton Down found signs of infection in dead addicts.

But health officials in Glasgow, where several of the deaths took place, insisted at the time that the drug users were not infected by anthrax.

The last two known anthrax-related deaths in Britain were both of men who made drums.

In 2006 Christopher Norris, 50, from Stobs, near Hawick, died after inhaling anthrax.

Mr Norris made artworks and musical instruments, including drums.

A report from NHS Borders said Mr Norris is likely to have caught the disease after playing or handling anthrax-contaminated West African drums at a drumming workshop.

Last November, drum-maker Fernando Gomez, who is thought to have inhaled anthrax spores while handling imported animal skins, died in hospital in London.

The 35-year-old Spanish folk musician had been in the intensive care unit for several days.

Five people died and 17 others were ill in a series of anthrax attacks in the US in 2001.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears