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)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Anthrax - Europe

This is just a collection of odds and ends resulting from digging around the internet. These snippets, which are presented in no particular order and without much comment, have been sitting in isolated non-posts in the drafts folder. Haven't a clue if they're of any use, haven't a clue if they're relevant to anybody or not, but better out here than tucked away.

It seems that there was a problem in Germany in December. (from Reuters, 23rd January)
The eighth victim was a 42-year-old man in Germany who died of anthrax infection in mid-December after injecting drugs, authorities said.

"It is now suspected that heroin with infectious anthrax spores (and possibly other psychoactive substances that can be injected) is in circulation in Europe," the health ministry in Berlin said in a statement.

Anthrax infection occurs most often in wild and domestic animals in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe.

Humans are rarely infected but touching contaminated hides or hair can cause skin lesions. If the bacillus is inhaled, it can take hold quickly and by the time symptoms show up, it usually is too late for successful treatment with antibiotics.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors health in the European Union, said on its website that further anthrax cases were possible.

"The occurrence of 15 confirmed cases, including 8 deaths in a 5-week period is unusual and unexpected," it said.

"Considering the complex international distribution chain of heroin, and the clustering in time of cases in Scotland and Germany, the exposure to a contaminated batch of heroin distributed in several EU Member States is possible."
The ECDC reports (3rd February):
In Germany, an epidemiological investigation was launched by the Robert Koch Institute, which includes distribution of information to hospitals, GPs, emergency departments, microbiologists and low threshold facilities was launched in order to raise awareness, gain more thorough information and search for suspected cases.
The joint ECDC / EMCDDA risk assessment comes to the following conclusions:
  • what is currently known is that there is likely a contaminated batch of heroin circulating in the MS.
  • the anthrax contaminated batches of drugs are most likely due to accidental contamination and not deliberate release. There is a complex international distribution chain of heroin, and the clustering in time of cases in Scotland and Germany, the exposure to a contaminated batch of heroin distributed in several EU Member States is possible. Therefore, it is likely that additional cases will still be identified in the near future, in the UK and potentially in Germany and other Member States.
  • It can also be assumed, that since anthrax infections in drug users is not a frequent event, persons who deal in the chain of procedures for drug analysis in laboratories may not suspect anthrax to be present in samples that they perform routine tests on.
  • The epidemiological data suggests that infection via inhalational route with anthrax-contaminated material is possible.
ECDC and key partners have already identified steps to take to further monitor and act in this situation.
Another source locates the German case in North-Rhine-Westphalia.

Updates on the HPS Scotland site suggest no new cases, same with HPA - which can only be good news.

A piece, on a Biosecurity blog in USA The site is meant for "clinicians who are interested in biodefense" so it might not have been such a good idea to use the link, especially as none of the Rigbys are either clinicians or specialists, but no matter, it's still interesting.

Big Bear says France is worried by anthrax outbreak, the same is mentioned on Bio-prep watch, which is a Chicago based site.

"StoptheDrugWar" (US based) 22nd January (the whole article is worth reading).
drug reform and drug user activists are reporting a cluster of nine suspicious heroin-related deaths in Coimbra, Portugal, although it is unclear at this point whether they are linked to anthrax-tainted heroin.
Can't find out if these were linked to anthrax contamination or not, but this forum suggests it was overdose rather than contamination - so perhaps no need to panic.

Nothing at all on the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction)

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