- Drug user dies with ‘anthrax infection’ at Blackpool hospital
- The source of the infection is presumed to be contaminated heroin
- The drug user’s death follows a spate of cases in Europe since early June
- Experts say the risk to the general population is negligible
A drug user has died after being infected with anthrax, health experts said.
The Health Protection Agency said that a person who injected drugs died in hospital in Blackpool.
The name of the person or the hospital has not been disclosed.
The HPA said the source of the infection is presumed to be contaminated heroin.
The news comes after a spate of cases in Europe since early June.
The HPA said it is ‘unclear’ whether the case in Blackpool and another case in Scotland – which was confirmed at the end of July – are linked to the European outbreak.
Anthrax is a rare bacterial infection and is primarily a disease of herbivorous mammals, though other animals and some birds can also contract it.
Bacillus anthracis spores can survive in the environment for years or decades.
Dependent on the dose and route of exposure, the symptoms may develop within a week of taking heroin.
An HPA spokesperson said: ‘The patient comes from the north west of England and was taken to hospital earlier this week and died shortly afterwards.
‘The infection was cultured in the laboratory and the results came back last night that it was anthrax.
‘You can treat anthrax with antibiotics if caught early, otherwise it can be fatal. That is the vital message we are trying to get out.’
Since June there have been seven confirmed cases of the infection – one in Scotland, three in Germany, two in Denmark, and one in France.
These are the first cases of anthrax among drug users in Europe since the outbreak during 2009 and 2010.
That outbreak saw 119 cases in Scotland, five cases in England and two cases in Germany.
Among them was heroin user Shane Brown, 24, from Blackpool, who died after testing positive for anthrax at the town’s Victoria Hospital in 2010.
Signs of infection include redness or excessive swelling at the injection site, or a high temperature, chills or a severe headache or breathing difficulties.