25 October 2008
The Health Protection Agency has been responding to an isolated case of inhalation anthrax. The patient concerned is being treated in intensive care at a London hospital.
Anthrax is a disease caused by spores that live in the environment. It can cause a skin infection (cutaneous anthrax) or as in this case, inhalation anthrax, when the spores are inhaled into the lungs. Inhalation anthrax is very rare and is not passed from person to person.
Professor Nigel Lightfoot, Chief Advisor at the Health Protection Agency, said: “This patient makes and then plays animal skin drums for a living. It is through making these drums that exposure to and inhalation of anthrax spores on an imported animal hide has taken place. The risk to others who play these drums is very low. It is the process of removing the animal hairs during the making of drums that can put people at risk.
“It is important that anyone who makes drums from imported animal hides is aware of this risk and knows about the symptoms of anthrax. Skin (cutaneous) anthrax causes a lesion which will develop from an inflamed pimple into an ulcer with a black centre and extensive swelling. The infection usually responds well to early treatment with antibiotics. Inhalation anthrax begins with flu-like symptoms followed by severe breathing difficulties and leads to blood poisoning.
“We are working closely with the Local Authority, the NHS and this patient’s family to identify anyone else who may have been exposed to these spores during the making of the drums. We will follow up anyone we identify and offer them antibiotics to prevent them from becoming ill. There is no need for members of the public, or people who play animal skin drums to be concerned.”
Notes to Editors
Last reviewed: 25 October 2008