Monday 18 December 2017

Anthrax alert sounded after killer bug hits heroin users

IRELAND has been put on anthrax alert after an outbreak of cases among injecting drug users abroad.

In the UK, a heroin drug user died after being infected with the disease.

A HSE spokesman confirmed an alert has been issued here.

"The Health Protection Surveillance Centre recently issued an alert to relevant agencies and parties including Departments of Public Health, consultants in emergency medicine, consultant microbiologists, consultants in infectious disease and HSE drug services.

"This is part of an ongoing series of alerts since an outbreak of anthrax among injecting drug users in several countries in Europe was identified in June.

"There have been no related cases of anthrax infection reported in Ireland," he said.

Tim Bingham, co-ordinator of the Irish Needle Exchange Forum, said if there is any red swelling or itching around the site where a drug user has injected, medical advice should be sought.

In Britain, its Health Protection Agency (HPA) said a person who injected heroin died in Medway, Kent.

Earlier this year, two drug users died in Blackpool after contracting the bacterial infection.

There has been a small outbreak of cases in Europe, with 13 cases identified by health officials since early June.


Six of the cases have occurred in the UK, including four in England, one in Scotland and one in Wales.

The HPA said the source of the infection is presumed to be contaminated heroin.

The HPA said it is "unclear" whether the British cases are linked to the European outbreak, which has affected drug users in Denmark, Germany and France. Anthrax is a bacterial infection and is primarily a disease of herbivorous mammals, although other animals and some birds can also contract it.

Drug users can become infected when heroin is contaminated with anthrax spores.

Dr Fortune Ncube, an expert in blood-borne viruses at the HPA, said: "Anthrax can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early.

"It is therefore important for medical professionals to be alert to the possibility 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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