HPA confirms sixth anthrax case

A sixth UK case in the ongoing anthrax outbreak has been confirmed by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). ‘A person who injected heroin has been diagnosed with anthrax infection in Medway and has died,’ the HPA announced just before Christmas. 

Four of the six UK cases have been in England, and the number of cases identified across Europe since June 2012 now stands at 13, with four in Germany, two in Denmark and one in France. Heroin users in Europe are ‘still at risk’ of exposure to anthrax, state the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). 

‘In light of this recent case in Medway, we have advised local agencies to talk to their service users who inject drugs about the risk of anthrax infection,’ said interim director of the HPA’s Kent Health Protection Unit, Dr James Sedgwick. ‘People who inject drugs often experience skin infection but we strongly advise them not to ignore signs such as redness or excessive swelling around injection sites, or other symptoms of general illness such a high temperature, chills, severe headaches or breathing difficulties.’

The previous outbreak of anthrax in Scotland was declared over in December 2010, by which time there had been 47 confirmed, 35 probable and 37 possible cases of anthrax, including 14 deaths.