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Anthrax outbreak fear over contaminated heroin

Contaminated heroin which has caused an outbreak of anthrax cases could be in circulation here, health authorities have warned.

The country's disease watchdog has urged those with close contacts with heroin users to be aware of the signs of potential anthrax infection.

The warning follows an outbreak of the disease in Glasgow, which has lead to a number of deaths.

Anthrax is a very rare but serious infection caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis which is often fatal, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

If the bacterium gets into the bloodstream or the brain and is not treated early, it is almost invariably fatal.

Since the first week of December 2009, public health authorities in Scotland have identified cases of anthrax in heroin users.

To date, 14 cases, with seven deaths due to anthrax infection, have occurred in Scotland. In addition, Germany is now reporting the death of a male heroin user with no identified links to Scotland, the HPSC reported.

It said that there have been no cases of anthrax infection identified in Ireland.

Meanwhile, new figures show the number of cases of measles continues to soar, with 150 cases reported here so far this year.

There were 130 measles cases in the first four weeks of this year, compared to just four in the same period in 2009, according to the HPSC.

However, there has been a sharp drop in the number of cases of mumps so far this year, with 24 reported.

The mumps decrease is being attributed to the HSE's catch up MMR campaign in secondary schools last year and its on-going MMR vaccine programme in third level colleges.