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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 14:03 GMT
Man caught anthrax from drum skin
Anthrax work in Smailholm

An inquiry into a man's death from anthrax has concluded that "on balance of probabilities" he contracted it from playing or handling West African drums.

Christopher Norris, of Stobs, near Hawick in the Scottish Borders died from the disease in July last year.

A report by NHS Borders said it was the first case of "inhalation anthrax" in the UK for more than a century.

Lessons to be learned from the handling of the death and its aftermath are to be shared with other health bodies.

Anthrax was confirmed as the likely cause of Mr Norris's death in August 2006.


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A widespread investigation followed to find out how he contracted the disease and to check nobody else had been infected.

The total cost of that response has been estimated at about 460,000.

The NHS report concludes that the most likely source of the disease was Mr Norris playing or handling of drums at the village hall in Smailholm in the Borders.

Dr Andrew Riley, director of public health, said in his report: "His short illness was characterised by an atypical presentation of what world experts considered to be inhalation anthrax.

"The speed of onset of the illness and resulting sudden death serve to illustrate the potential devastating impact of this disease."

Dr Riley said that despite others attending the same drumming sessions they had not been affected.


He said that while there had been cases of anthrax in other parts of the world associated with contact with West African drums this was the only one recorded in the UK.

"It would, therefore, be reasonable to conclude that while a risk of infection clearly does exist, the level of risk would have to be considered as relatively low," he said.

However, he stressed that further research was needed to determine how serious a danger such drums posed.

"In the meantime, it would be reasonable for general advice to be given to the public about the potential risks of anthrax infection associated with imported animal skins and West African drums," he said.

The report also looked at the "large scale public health incident" prompted by the death of Mr Norris.

More than 150 people were identified as at high risk of exposure to the disease with more than 70 given antibiotics.

Extensive investigations were carried out into potential sources of anthrax spores and two properties in the Borders subsequently decontaminated.

'Untimely death'

"Many valuable lessons have been learned which will aid other agencies throughout this country and elsewhere in planning and, if necessary, undertaking similar work," concluded Dr Riley.

He said it was important to realise, however, that such lessons had only been learned "as a direct result of the untimely death of a very gifted and creative local Borders man".

Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It most commonly occurs in animals such as cattle, sheep and goats but can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals.

Health Protection Scotland has stressed that it cannot be passed from person to person.

Inquiry sought into anthrax death
26 Oct 07 |  South of Scotland
Anthrax hall receives all-clear
17 Apr 07 |  South of Scotland
Anthrax house receives all clear
14 Dec 06 |  South of Scotland


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