Anthrax outbreak in Scotland called worst in 50 years

The 2009-2010 anthrax outbreak among drug users in Scotland has been called the largest in the United Kingdom in 50 years.

A recently released report by Health Protection Scotland recorded a total of 119 anthrax cases during the outbreak. Fourteen people died as a result, according to the BBC.

The report said that the outbreak was the first associated with heroin use anywhere in the world. HPS said that as long as the trade in illegal drugs exists, so does the risk of a similar occurrence.

Public health officials with HPS have concluded that contaminated heroin imported into Scotland was the cause of the outbreak. They said that a single batch contaminated with anthrax spores via contact with an infected animal was most likely responsible.

"It is not believed it was intentional but it is more likely it was contaminated with anthrax spores at source," an HPS spokeswoman said, the BBC reports.

During the outbreak, drug users were warned that they would not be able to tell whether or not a given supply of the drug was tainted and that either injecting or smoking the drug could be dangerous. HPS urged heroin users to seek advice from drug treatment services about quitting or at least using safer alternatives such as methadone.