Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Anthrax drug deaths rise to nine

Close up microscopic picture of the Anthrax virus
Experts are investigating if the bacteria contaminated a batch of heroin

The number of drug addicts who have died in Scotland after being infected with anthrax has risen to nine.

Health Protection Scotland said tests had confirmed the infection in a heroin user who had died in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area on 12 December.

This would make it the earliest death connected to anthrax although it is the latest to be diagnosed.

Investigations continue into whether contaminated heroin or a contaminated cutting agent may be to blame.

The outbreak began with the identification of cases in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in December.

So far, the total number of confirmed cases is 18, across six Scottish health boards.

It must therefore be assumed that all heroin in Scotland carries the risk of anthrax contamination and users are advised to cease taking heroin by any route if at all possible
Dr Colin Ramsay
Health Protection Scotland

Health Protection Scotland said this represented the first known outbreak of anthrax to have occurred in the country in conjunction with drug use.

The head of the outbreak control team, Dr Colin Ramsay, said: "No drug samples tested to date have shown anthrax contamination, although a number of other types of potentially harmful bacteria have been found.

"It must therefore be assumed that all heroin in Scotland carries the risk of anthrax contamination and users are advised to cease taking heroin by any route if at all possible.

"While we appreciate that this may be extremely difficult advice for users to follow, it remains the only public health protection advice possible based on current evidence."

Dr Ramsay said filters would not make heroin safe for drug users.

Symptoms of infection include swelling, redness, abscesses or ulcers on skin where the needle has entered, often with septicaemia.

Anthrax is a deadly bacterial infection which occurs mostly in animals in Asia and Africa.

Humans are seldom infected and it is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person.



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SEE ALSO
Eighth Scots anthrax drug death
25 Jan 10 |  Scotland
Anthrax outbreak cases reach 15
22 Jan 10 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Another anthrax case confirmed
31 Dec 09 |  Scotland
Second heroin user anthrax death
23 Dec 09 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Anthrax fears over heroin batches
26 Dec 09 |  Cumbria

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