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British Officials Warn Of Anthrax-Laced Heroin

February 6, 2010

Health officials from Britain issued drug users an alert on Friday after a heroin user tested positive for the deadly anthrax infection, according to Reuters.

It was the first such anthrax case seen in England caused by laced heroin. Nine people have died in Scotland and one in Germany during the past two months from the contaminated drug. Officials from the Health Protection Agency, in a statement, said the laced drug could be circulating through Europe now.

It was believed last month that a batch of heroin was circulating in the region that may have been contaminated with the common deadly bacteria. According to the HPA, there have been 19 cases of anthrax in Scotland so far, and with the similarities in the London case, they believe that the contaminated heroin is the source of the infection.

The HPA’s British director, Brian McCloskey, said there was no evidence that the infection would be transmitted person to person, and the general public and close family members of the infected patient should not worry about their own well being.

“While public health investigations are ongoing, it must be assumed that all heroin in London carries the risk of anthrax contamination. Heroin users are advised to cease taking heroin by any route, if at all possible, and to seek help from their local drug treatment services,” McCloskey said in the statement to Reuters.

Anthrax, an acute infectious disease caused by spores of bacillus anthracis bacteria, is most often found in wild and domestic animals in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe. Humans are rarely infected, but touching contaminated hides or hair can cause skin lesions. If the spores are inhaled, the infection spreads quickly and by the time symptoms show, it is often too late for treatment.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors health in the European Union, it is strongly suggested that all cases of the contamination of heroin came from a common source, but the contamination was most likely accidental and not deliberate.

Image Caption: Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows splenic tissue from a monkey with inhalational anthrax; featured are rod-shaped bacilli (yellow) and an erythrocyte (red). Courtesy NIH

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