Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Monday, 25 January 2010


Eight people, including seven in Scotland, have died of anthrax infection from using suspected contaminated heroin, European health authorities said last night, and one expert advised users to stop taking the narcotic immediately.
So says the Indy.

We're reassured that those injecting themselves with heroin read the Independent, and will stop using the drug straight away thanks to advice from some un-named official somewhere in Europe.

No other papers appear to carry this news, although it is tucked away within BBC Scotland
A further case of anthrax has been confirmed in a drug user in Scotland bringing the total number of cases in this outbreak to 15.
The new case of the potential killer was confirmed to have taken place in the NHS Ayrshire and Arran area.
So far, the number of anthrax related deaths stands at seven with cases confirmed in six NHS boards.
The BBC reassures that we can't catch it :-
It normally infects humans when they inhale or ingest anthrax spores, but it cannot be passed from person to person.
Funny how they describe it as an "outbreak" if you can't catch it - a bit careless perhaps?

Apparently Anthrax is (quote HPA).
... a bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis, spores of which can survive in the environment for years or decades. It is primarily a disease of herbivorous mammals, though other animals and some birds, particularly carrion birds, can also contract it.
There's a Q+A (FAQ) here and something on DEFRA wrt animals

HPA also says this
Anthrax became a notifiable industrial disease under the Factories Act in 1895, and in December 1960 became a notifiable disease under the Public Health Act. Information about the morbidity of the disease in the general population is available only since 1961.

The last reported case of anthrax in England and Wales occurred in October 2008  ... this was a fatal case of inhalation anthrax in a man whose exposure occurred during manipulation of animal hides while drum-making. This was the first death since 1974, when there were been two fatal cases, both believed to be associated with bonemeal fertilizer. One had haemorrhagic septicaemia and generalised infection with Bacillus anthracis, and the second had gastrointestinal and pulmonary anthrax. Prior to that, the last reported case of pulmonary anthrax had been in 1965.

A death from anthrax occurred in Scotland in 2006; this was a case of atypical inhalation anthrax which probably followed exposure as a result of playing/handling animal hide drums ... In December 2009 cases of anthrax were reported in injecting drug users in Scotland.
There's more information about the cases on HPA here

It's odd that these little spores, which apparently can't be (according to the BBC) "passed from one person to another", caused an island to be abandoned and sealed off about fifty or so years ago. There was some obscure reference to anthrax to do with doing up some of the tube stations too, because the old plaster contained dead anthrax spores from either horse hair or straw - can't find a reference.

Anyhow, here's a bit more, this time from  Wikipedia
Anthrax cannot be spread directly from person to person, but a patient's clothing and body may be contaminated with anthrax spores. Effective decontamination of people can be accomplished by a thorough wash down with antimicrobial effective soap and water. Waste water should be treated with bleach or other anti-microbial agent. Effective decontamination of articles can be accomplished by boiling contaminated articles in water for 30 minutes or longer. Chlorine bleach is ineffective in destroying spores and vegetative cells on surfaces, though formaldehyde is effective. Burning clothing is very effective in destroying spores.
Absolutely no idea if this is accurate or not, because sometimes Wikipedia seems to have been written by idiots, but the science stuff is usually quite good.

Does anybody out there know a bit more?


Mrs R said...

I've coped your comment

Leg-iron said...


The island is Gruinard off Scotland and was used to test an anthrax bomb. It was eventually treated with formalin and declared clear but I'd still be wary of it. there are no pubs on it so there's no point going there anyway.

Anthrax is a right swine. It can cause gut, respiratory and blood infections, all of which can be fatal and yes you can catch it from someone who's got it.

Spore life is not decades. It's centuries.

It's not an ideal bioweapon though. Sure, it's easy to make and store but it kills too quick. You need something that'll tie up resources with lots of sick people to be really effective. Something like swine flu would be good.

But I'm getting into dodgy territory here so I'll shut up. The last microbiologist who talked about bioweapons in public didn't exactly have a long and peaceful life.

Mrs R said...

@ Leg-Iron

I've moved your comment to the right place

Leg-iron said...


I might have been on the tipsy side somewhat. It happens now and then, especially late at night.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Good idea.

Lace millions of wraps with it. then just introduce them onto the streets randomly among good stuff.

THEN after two or three days, the "Government" could tell them what they had done.

The panic would be fascinating to watch.