The fifth case of anthrax infection in the UK has been reported in another heroin user. This is the 12th case in Europe and health officials, including the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction have said that heroin users are still at risk of anthrax infection.
So far there have been two deaths from the anthrax outbreak in Blackpool in August and September. Doctors are warning anyone using heroin to be on the lookout for the symptoms of infection.
Dr Eamonn O'Moore, director of the HPA's Thames Valley Health Protection Unit, said: "Injecting drug users often experience skin infection but we strongly advise them not to ignore signs such as redness or excessive swelling around injection sites, or other symptoms of general illness such a high temperature, chills, severe headaches or breathing difficulties.
"They should seek medical advice quickly in such circumstances generally but particularly now because we have concerns that some batches of heroin in circulation in Oxfordshire and the wider Thames Valley may be contaminated with anthrax."
Medical professionals are especially concerned because anthrax can infect heroin users no matter how they use the drug.
"People who use drugs may become infected with anthrax when the heroin they use is contaminated with anthrax spores.”
"This could be a source of infection if injected, smoked or snorted. There is no safe route for consuming heroin or other drugs that may be contaminated with anthrax spores."
The most important part of treating anthrax is early detection. If the infection is caught early, it can be treated with medication. In the later stages, anthrax is far less treatable and becomes a major health concern. Doctors are asking any heroin user who experiences a strange reaction to the drug to seek medical attention immediately.
There has still been no clear source of the contaminated anthrax. This makes stopping the flow of the drug nearly impossible. More worryingly, many heroin users may ignore early warning signs which could lead to a potentially fatal infection and help spread the disease.
So far there have been reports of heroin related anthrax cases in England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Denmark and France. There is no news as of yet as to whether these cases are connected.