U.K. drug user dies following anthrax infection

A heroin user in Suffolk, United Kingdom, recently died after being infected with anthrax, marking 13 anthrax cases in drug users in Europe since June.

Seven cases of anthrax occurred in the U.K., including one in Wales and one in Scotland. Four of the five people who contracted anthrax in England died after the infection. The Health Protection Agency said the source of the infection is presumed to be tainted heroin, the Guardian reports.

"Anthrax can be cured with antibiotics, if treatment is started early," Chris Williams, a communicable disease control consultant at the HPA, said, according to the Guardian. "It is therefore important for medical professionals to be alert to the possibility of anthrax infection in heroin users presenting with signs and symptoms - which include severe soft tissue infections or blood poisoning - to prevent any delays in providing treatment."

The HPA said it was unclear if the British cases were linked to the European outbreak, which affected drug users in France, Germany and Denmark.

"It is possible that further cases may be seen in people who inject heroin," Williams said, according to the Guardian. "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.

Anthrax is a deadly bacterial infection that primarily infects herbivorous mammals, though other animals and birds can also be infected by the spores of the bacteria, the Guardian reports.