Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Anthrax found in Glasgow heroin users


Public health consultant, Dr Syed Ahmed speaks after the anthrax revelation

Health agencies across Scotland have been placed on alert after a drug user who died in a Glasgow hospital tested positive for anthrax.

A woman who injected heroin is also being treated for the effects of the infection.

Tests are also being carried out on a third drug user and a number of other cases are being investigated.

Health officials believe the two may have taken contaminated heroin and an outbreak control team has been set up.

The woman is being treated at the Victoria Infirmary, where the man died two days ago and doctors are waiting for the results of tests carried out on a third drug user at the city's Royal Infirmary.

We would like to reassure people that our purpose is to recover this substance in the interests of public safety. It is not about targeting drug users
Strathclyde police spokesman

At the moment, the cases are not being linked, though it is known all three had infections in areas of the body they had injected with heroin.

Police and health officials are investigating whether contaminated heroin or a contaminated cutting agent may be responsible.

Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public health medicine, said: "I urge all drug injecting heroin users to be extremely alert and to seek urgent medical advice if they experience an infection.

"While this section of the community need to be on their guard the risk to the rest of the population - including close family members of the infected cases - is negligible.

"It is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person and there is no significant risk of airborne transmission from one person to another."

'Extremely rare'

The health board said it would investigate cases of drug injecting heroin users with serious soft tissue infections now or during the last four weeks.

Strathclyde Police said it was vital that if there was a contaminated batch of heroin on the streets that it was traced and recovered.

A spokesman added: "Our number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our communities.

Anthrax virus
Anthrax is a bacterial infection usually found in hoofed animals

"We would appeal to drug users to come forward if they have any information that may enable us to trace its source.

"We would like to reassure people that our purpose is to recover this substance in the interests of public safety. It is not about targeting drug users."

Anthrax is an acute bacterial infection most commonly found in hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep and goats.

It normally infects humans when they inhale or ingest anthrax spores, but cannot be passed from person to person.

The last death from anthrax in Scotland was in 2006 when Christopher Norris died after inhaling the spores.

The 50-year-old craftsman, from Stobs, near Hawick, made drums with materials such as untreated animal hides.

Last November, drum-maker Fernando Gomez, who is thought to have inhaled anthrax spores while handling imported animal skins, died in hospital in London.

The 35-year-old Spanish folk musician had been in the intensive care unit for several days.

Five people died and 17 others were ill in a series of anthrax attacks in the US in 2001.

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