Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Drumming up an unusual anthrax case

drumming.jpgJam-band concertgoers and neo-Pagans, take care &mdash your next drum-circle could sicken you.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control reported an instance where a 24-year-old woman fell severely ill after participating in a community drumming event in the US state of New Hampshire. Investigators found anthrax spores on two drums used at the event that matched spores isolated from the patient.

What is most unusual about this case is that the patient contracted the gastrointestinal form of anthrax. There’s a history of animal-hide products acting as vectors for anthrax spores (the US federal government prohibits importing goatskin products from Haiti for this very reason), but these usually result in the respiratory form of the disease. Instances of gastrointestinal anthrax are incredibly rare in the US, usually resulting when people eat tainted beef, as in the 2000 case of a farmer’s family in Minnesota. It’s possible that in the course of the drum-circle event, spores from the drums found their way into food or water that the patient ingested, or that she was particularly susceptible due to her immune system being compromised. At the time, the woman was also suffering from an infection of pinworms in her small intestine and appendix.

Anthrax popped up earlier this year in the UK when a rash of cases arose among heroin addicts. Over 50 people, mostly in Scotland, were sickened, and 13 died after injecting anthrax-contaminated heroin. It’s thought that the drug may have become tainted at its source in Afghanistan, either from coming into contact with contaminated soil or animal skins, or possibly because the drug was “cut” with ground bone meal containing anthrax spores.

Image by stevendepolo via Flickr Creative Commons