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Home News centre National Press Releases 2008 Press Releases ›  Single case of inhalation anthrax

Single case of inhalation anthrax

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

  1. Despite the popularity of African drumming in the UK and elsewhere over recent years, no cases of anthrax associated with these activities have been reported. A single case of cutaneous (skin) anthrax associated with a goat hide bongo drum purchased in Haiti occurred in 1974: this is the only such case ever reported.
  2. A case of inhalation anthrax occurred in 2006 in America in a man who made drums from dried (but otherwise untreated) animal hides brought in from West Africa. A case in August 2006 also occurred in Scotland in a man who made drums from imported animal hides.
  3. Anthrax infections associated with the handling of untanned animal hides are now extremely rare in the UK. Imported animal hides from countries where anthrax is endemic in animals (for example, in Africa and Asia) pose a higher risk for exposure than domestic (UK origin) hides.
  4. Strict regulations are in place for the importation of animal hides. These can be accessed at:
  5. For further information about animal hide drums and anthrax please to go:
  6. For media enquiries only please contact the HPA Press Office on 020 8200 4400.


Last reviewed: 25 October 2008