New Hampshire probes GI anthrax case

Dec 29, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Health officials in New Hampshire are investigating whether a woman who is ill with gastrointestinal (GI) anthrax contracted the potentially deadly infection at a drum circle gathering in Durham, N.H.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported the anthrax case in a woman from Strafford County, N.H., on Dec 26 and said she was in critical condition. Officials think the woman may have been infected at a drumming circle at the United Campus Ministry building in Durham on Dec 4.

Yesterday the DHHS said samples from two drums collected at the building tested positive for anthrax. Today officials said an environmental sample from the building also tested positive, according to a DHHS press release. State officials have closed the building until further notice.

Samples from the drums and the patient have been sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine if the organisms match, the DHHS said today.

"This new information indicates there is a low level of contamination in the drum room at the Ministry building," Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, medical advisor to the DHHS Division of Public Health Services, said in the press release. "This has prompted us to offer antibiotics and the anthrax vaccine to anyone who was at the drumming circle on December 4, 2009." She said their risk of infection is considered low.

DHHS officials believe the New Hampshire case is the first confirmed GI anthrax case reported in the United States, according to an Associated Press report today. The other two types of anthrax infection are inhalational and cutaneous.

Contaminated animal hides from Africa were blamed for two cases of cutaneous anthrax in Connecticut in 2007. Also, African hides used in drum-making were linked to an inhalational anthrax case in a drummer from New York City in 2006. He was hospitalized for a month before recovering.

The New Hampshire woman remained in critical condition yesterday, according to a report by the Union Leader newspaper.

The DHHS statement said there have been only 11 naturally occurring anthrax cases in the United States since 1957. Anthrax spores sent through the mail were blamed for 22 cases, 5 of them fatal, in 2001.

See also:

CIDRAP overview of anthrax
http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/bt/anthrax/biofacts/index.html

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