Drug user's anthrax infection death

A drug user has died after being infected with anthrax, health experts have said.

The Health Protection Agency said that a person who injected drugs died in hospital in Blackpool.

The news comes after a spate of cases in Europe since early June. The HPA said the source of the infection is presumed to be contaminated heroin.

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 bacterial infection and is primarily a disease of herbivorous mammals, though other animals and some birds can also contract it.

Dr Dilys Morgan, an expert in zoonotic infections at the HPA, said: "It's likely that further cases among PWID (people who inject drugs) will be identified as part of the ongoing outbreak in EU countries. The Department of Health has alerted the NHS of the possibility of PWID presenting to emergency departments and walk-in clinics, with symptoms suggestive of anthrax.

"Anthrax can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early. It is therefore important for medical professionals to know the signs and symptoms to look for, so that there are no delays in providing the necessary treatment."

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. Although the two outbreaks have not officially been linked, European health experts say that the recent cases could have come from the same batch of contaminated heroin in the 2009 to 2010 outbreak.

Drug users may become infected when heroin is contaminated with anthrax spores - which can survive for years or decades.