Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Anthrax heroin death in Blackpool investigated

Close up microscopic picture of the Anthrax virus
Anthrax occurs mostly in animals such as cattle, sheep and goats

Health officials have confirmed a heroin user, who tested positive for anthrax, has died.

Shane Brown, 24 and from Blackpool, was taken to the town's Victoria Hospital on 28 January and died on 1 February.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA), NHS Blackpool and police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death and the source or supply of the drugs.

A 36-year-old Blackpool woman, arrested on suspicion of supplying or offering drugs, has been bailed until 2 April.

A 35-year-old man, from Liverpool, arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs and a 21-year-old woman from Blackpool, arrested on suspicion of production or being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs, were released without charge.

'Alert to risks'

This is the second case of anthrax seen in an injecting drug user in England, the first announced in London on 5 February.

Similar cases have been seen in Scotland since December 2009.

Professor Qutub Syed, from the HPA, said: "I'd like to reassure people that the risk to the general population, including close family members of the deceased, is negligible.

"It is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person and there has been no evidence of a significant risk of infection being passed on in the current situation in Scotland."

In a statement from NHS Blackpool, it said while public health investigations were ongoing, "it must be assumed that all heroin in the north west carries the risk of anthrax contamination."

Heroin users were warned to be alert to the risks and to seek urgent medical advice if they experience signs of infection, as early antibiotic treatment can be lifesaving.

Bacterial infection

Signs of infection include redness or excessive swelling, at or near an injection site, a high temperature, chills or a severe headache or breathing difficulties.

It urged them "to cease taking heroin by any route, if at all possible".

Anthrax is a very rare but serious bacterial infection caused by the organism Bacillus anthracis.

The disease occurs most often in wild and domestic animals in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe; humans are rarely infected.

Dependent on the dose and route of exposure, the symptoms may develop within a week of taking heroin.

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