Heroin user diagnosed with anthrax infection in Oxford
A HEROIN user has been diagnosed with anthrax infection in Oxford.
The Health Protection Agency has this morning confirmed the patient is recovering. It said the case had occurred after two people who injected drugs died from confirmed anthrax infection in Blackpool within a month of each other in August and September this year.
There is an ongoing outbreak of anthrax among people who inject drugs in a number of countries in Europe with 12 cases now identified since early June.
The latest case in Oxford brings the total number affected in the UK to five. Three have been in England, with two people having died. The source is presumed to be contaminated heroin.
Experts said it was unclear whether these recent cases are linked to the cases in Europe (four in Germany, two in Denmark and one in France) but the HPA is continuing to monitor the situation.
Anthrax is a bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis, spores of which can survive in the environment for years or decades. It is primarily a disease of herbivorous mammals, though other animals and some birds, particularly carrion birds, can also contract it.
Dr Fortune Ncube, an HPA expert in infections among people who inject drugs, said: "Anthrax can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early.
"It is therefore important for medical professionals to be alert to the possibly of anthrax infection in heroin users presenting with signs and symptoms – which include severe soft tissue infections or blood poisoning – to prevent any delays in providing treatment.
"It is possible that further cases may be seen in people who inject heroin. People who use drugs may become infected with anthrax when the heroin they use is contaminated with anthrax spores.
"This could be a source of infection if injected, smoked or snorted. There is no safe route for consuming heroin or other drugs that may be contaminated with anthrax spores."
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