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UK anthrax victim infected by drum skin

West African percussion of death

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The 50-year-old man who died in 2006 from anthrax probably caught the disease while "playing or handling West African drums", the BBC reports.

Christopher Norris worked with untreated animal hides at his home at Black Lodge in Stobs in the Scottish Borders. An inquiry has concluded he succumbed to the first case of "inhalation anthrax" seen in the UK for over a century, and was most likely infected while participating in a drumming session in the village hall in Smailholm.

Dr Andrew Riley, director of public health, reported: "His short illness was characterised by an atypical presentation of what world experts considered to be inhalation anthrax. The speed of onset of the illness and resulting sudden death serve to illustrate the potential devastating impact of this disease."

The health authority response to the case - which involved identifying 150 people "at high risk of exposure to the disease", giving antibiotics to 70 of those, and disinfecting two properties - cost £460,000. In the end, however, Dr Riley said no one else who attended the suspect drumming session was infected.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It's commonly seen in cattle, sheep and goats, but while it can be passed from infected animals to humans, it is not transmitted between people. ®

Bootnote

Two people in Danbury, Connecticut, were in September diagnosed with anthrax. One of them is, according to a New York Times report, an African drummer "thought to have contracted anthrax from drum skins".

The house where the pair apparently contracted the disease was "being used to store untanned animal hides obtained from areas of the world where anthrax is known to be common".

The incident was the second in two years in the same area involving African drummers and anthrax, the NYT notes.

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