Anthrax risk from drum circles extremely low

Federal health officials from the Centers for Disease Control reported on July 23 that a New Hampshire woman who contracted anthrax linked to a drumming was an extremely rare case and likely was unusually susceptible to the disease.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article described the case, which began when a 24 year-old New Hampshire woman attended a drum circle at a local community center on December 4. The day after the event, the woman became ill with flu-like symptoms. Her symptoms became worse, but she avoided seeking treatment until December 14, when she was admitted to a hospital.

At the hospital, computed topography showed that sections of her small intestine were swollen and there was a large amount of fluid in her abdomen. She then went through small bowel resection surgery. Pathology studies determined that she had a nematode infection of the appendix and the small intestine. She was not released until two months after her admittance.

New Hampshire health officials began an investigation after blood tests revealed gastrointestinal anthrax was the cause of her illness. This occurred on December 24. Shortly after, investigators tested the community center, finding eight samples that tested positive for the presence of anthrax spores, including those from two drums the patient denied touching.

Genetic analysis by the CDC revealed that the spores they collected at the center matched the woman’s anthrax strain. None of the other 84 people tested for exposure from that day contracted the disease.

The report’s findings suggest that the woman was exposed to aerosolized anthrax and may have contracted to it through direct exposure, through consuming contaminated water or food, or through contact with other people who were exposed.

The low-contamination level at the community center suggests that the risk of infection in such cases is very low, suggesting that the woman may have been unusually sensitive to anthrax. In the last few years, there have been a few cases of U.S. drum makers contracting anthrax from animal hide drums, but a case like this is extremely rare, according to the report.

The drums that tested negative for anthrax spores were returned to their owners.