Heroin user's anthrax death sparks outbreak fear in England

The recent death from anthrax of a British drug user has led to concern in Europe that the outbreak of the rare infection among people who inject heroin may be worsening.

The drug user could have been infected by contaminated heroin while at least seven other similar cases have been seen across Europe, the Health Protection Agency said, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The HPA's Dilys Morgan said that more cases will be identified, though the HPA said anthrax in drug users was very rare. The HPA was set up to guard against infection diseases and environmental hazards.

A 2009-2010 outbreak in Europe was also traced to contaminated heroin, though the only other case reported before then was a single occurrence in Norway in 2000, the Chicago Tribune Reports.

The HPA reported that since June of this year several new cases of anthrax among heroin users have been seen - three in Germany, two in Denmark, and one each in France and Scotland.

"It is unclear as yet whether this (death) and a case in Scotland at the end of July are linked to the outbreak in Europe but the HPA will continue to monitor the situation," the HPA said, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The British victim died in a hospital in Blackpool, northern England, though no further details were given.

Anthrax is a fairly common bacteria with spores that can be used as a biological weapon, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Anthrax rarely infects humans, but if spores are inhaled the infection can take hold quickly. The infection often takes hold before symptoms show, making antibiotic treatment much more difficult and less likely to succeed.

Anthrax infection can come in several forms, including skin anthrax, lung anthrax and gastrointestinal forms. It can also progress to blood infection and death. The disease is not transmitted directly from one infected person to another.