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Update: Anthrax victim was woman, 37


The patient killed by anthrax was a 37-year-old woman, it was revealed today.

The victim from Maidstone, who has yet to be named, was a drug injecting heroin user.

She was admitted to Maidstone Hospital in a critical condition at the weekend, but died yesterday afternoon.

Kent Police, the Health Protection Agency and local NHS trusts have launched an investigation to trace the source of the contaminated drugs.

Health officials issued a statement on Wednesday to reassure the public there is little risk of the infection spreading.

Dr Mathi Chandrakumar, the director of Kent Health Protection Unit, said: "I'd like to reassure people that there is no risk to the general population, including close family members of the patient.

"It is extremely unlikely that this form of anthrax can spread from person to person.

"We continue to see occasional cases of this serious infection among injecting drug users, following a cluster of cases earlier this year."

Messages left on KentOnline described the victim as a "beautiful woman" and a "lovely lady".

Coroners confirmed yesterday a postmortem had yet to be carried out on the body.

According to the HPA, this is the fifth case of anthrax seen in an injecting drug user in England, the first being in London in February this year.

Similarities to the cases in Scotland suggest that the heroin, or a contaminated cutting agent mixed with the heroin, is the likely source of infection.

Dr Chandrakumar said: "Exposure to anthrax is now one of a number of risks that drug users are exposed to.

"All heroin users should seek urgent medical advice if they experience signs of infection such as redness or excessive swelling at or near an injection site, or other symptoms of general illness such a high temperature, chills or a severe headache or breathing difficulties, as early antibiotic treatment can be life-saving."

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Kent Police on 01622 690 690.

For further health information, contact Kent Health Protection Unit on 01622 885 931.

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