December 30, 2009 in Nation/World

Drums may be to blame for anthrax case

Woman fell ill after attending drum circle
Holly Ramer Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Firefighters work to decontaminate items from a campus ministry at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire woman diagnosed with a rare gastrointestinal anthrax case may have swallowed spores propelled into the air by vigorous drumming, a state health expert said.

Officials haven’t confirmed how the woman contracted the disease but are focusing on a drum circle gathering she attended Dec. 4 at the United Campus Ministry center in Durham shortly before becoming ill. Public health officials who learned of her diagnosis last week immediately began investigating, and earlier this week shut down the ministry center after anthrax spores were found on two drums.

Some health officials believe it’s the nation’s first case of gastrointestinal anthrax, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsure.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, an adviser to the state’s public health division, said one theory is that the woman ingested airborne spores from a drum’s animal-hide covering.

“This was a wild type of anthrax that is found ubiquitously in our environment. It can become stirred up or agitated to a place where it briefly suspends in the air, and this patient likely contacted it on her fingers and introduced it into her mouth or inhaled a … spore into her mouth and then swallowed it,” she said.

Two recent U.S. anthrax cases involved African drums covered with animal hides, but those involved spores that were inhaled or entered through the skin.

The ministry center is not part of the university, but it houses students and runs a variety of campus-based programs. Pastor Larry Brickner-Wood, the center’s director, said the monthly drum circles involve people playing hand drums and other percussion instruments to build community spirit and promote well-being.

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