Subcutaneous anthrax in three intravenous drug users

A NEW CLINICAL DIAGNOSIS

D. Knox, G. Murray, M. Millar, D. Hamilton, M. Connor, R. D. Ferdinand, G. A. Jones

Abstract

Anthrax is extremely rare in the western world but is endemic to areas of south and central Asia. In early 2010 an outbreak was identified in heroin-injecting intravenous drug users in the United Kingdom and Europe. Afghanistan is currently the principal source of heroin which reaches the United Kingdom. When anthrax occurs, cutaneous disease accounts for over 95% of cases. At least 47 cases with 13 deaths have been confirmed so far. We present three cases presenting during this time with marked swelling, one resulting in compartment syndrome but all with an absence of the expected cutaneous appearances.

We suggest that rather than cutaneous anthrax, these patients represent a new subcutaneous presentation of anthrax.

  • Received September 28, 2010.
  • Accepted November 3, 2010.
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