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More anthrax cases among heroin addicts in Scotland

March 12, 2010 |  6:17 pm

Anthrax Have you been following the strange story of the heroin addicts in Scotland who have been contracting anthrax infections? Two more addicts are being treated, according to a report we picked up on Promed, a clearinghouse for infectious  disease news. Since December, 10 people have died in Scotland, all drug users, among about two dozen people known to have been infected. There have been a few cases in England and Germany too.

Health experts investigating the case say that contamination of either the heroin or a cutting agent are the most likely source, and they warn drug users to watch out for swellings and redness around injection sites. Chills, fever and headache are other warning signs. (Yes, the health officials do also warn addicts to not inject the drug.)

At the Promed site, you can read about the earlier reports on this strange case (to say nothing about all kinds of other infectious disease outbreaks among animals and people around the world).

Anthrax infections come in three forms: from ingesting spores, inhaling spores and from spores getting into the body through wounds (cutaneous). Transmission from person to person is very rare. 

Here's more about anthrax from the National Institutes of Health, and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who contract infections are most often people who have been exposed to animals -- or animal hides. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, there were several U.S. cases of people contracting cutaneous or inhalation forms of anthrax infection while making or handling hide drums.

From the CDC site:

Historically, anthrax was known as "wool sorters disease" and was considered an occupational hazard in workers in wool mills, slaughterhouses, and tanneries that processed animal hides, hair, and bone. The first documented case of anthrax linked to a hide drum was in Florida (USA) in 1974. In this case, the person developed cutaneous anthrax and survived. The source of the infection was a goat hide bongo drum bought in Haiti. In recent years, additional cases of anthrax in drummers and drum makers in the United States and United Kingdom have occurred.

--Rosie Mestel

Photo: Bacillus anthracis, found in soil. Credit: Associated Press.