The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is aware that a person who injected heroin has been diagnosed with anthrax infection in Oxford. The patient is recovering.
This case has occurred after two drug users died from confirmed anthrax infection in Blackpool within a month of each other earlier 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. The source is presumed to be contaminated heroin.
It is unclear whether these cases are linked to others in Europe (four in Germany, two in Denmark, one in France) but the HPA is continuing to monitor the situation.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have concluded that heroin users in Europe are still at risk of exposure.
– Dr Fortune Ncube, an expert in infections among people who inject drugs at the HPA
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 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.”