NH DHHS Continues Investigation into New Hampshire Anthrax Case

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) continues to investigate the source of the anthrax that infected a woman from Strafford County. While the investigation continues, the United Campus Ministry building located in Durham has been closed under an order from DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas until further notice.

Over the weekend, the New Hampshire National Guard, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, and the US Environmental Protection Agency collected environmental samples from the United Campus Ministry building and African drums stored there. One possible source of exposure could be drums used in a drumming circle in which the patient participated.

The samples are being tested at the New Hampshire Public Health Labs. Test samples from two of the drums from the Ministry building have come back positive for anthrax. However, this has not been determined as the source of the infection, and additional testing is being done, the results of which are pending.

Even though it is a remote possibility for transmission, because of the possible link to the African drums, DHHS is asking anyone who brought their own drum to one of the events held at the United Campus Ministry between October 1st and early December 2009 to call DPHS at 271-4496 to discuss the possibility of having their drum tested.

“Gastrointestinal anthrax is very unusual,” said Public Health Director Dr. José Montero. “We have not yet been able to confirm that the drums are the cause of the patient’s illness and we are continuing to follow up many leads. Anthrax is not an illness that you can catch from someone else.”

There are three types of anthrax infections: inhalation, cutaneous, and gastrointestinal. Gastrointestinal anthrax is characterized by acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. The incubation period can be anywhere from 3-60 days. At this point, DPHS believes this is to be an environmental exposure possibly related to the drums, but food, animal products and soil are also possible sources of naturally occuring anthrax.

“We want to assure the public that we are doing everything we can to find the source,” said DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas. “This is a very complex investigation with many roads to go down, many leads to follow, and many people to interview. Because of this, we are relying on the expertise of our public health staff as well as numerous federal, state, and local partners.”

There have been only 11 cases of naturally occurring anthrax in the United States since 1957. The last cases of anthrax that were diagnosed in New Hampshire were in 1957 when there were 9 cases (4 cutaneous and 5 inhalation) in employees of a textile mill in Manchester. One occurred recently in New York City and one in Connecticut that were related to animal hides. Approximately 2000 cases of cutaneous naturally occurring disease are reported annually worldwide.

For more information about anthrax visit www.emergency.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/    or www.dhhs.nh.gov. Anyone with questions about anthrax can call DHHS’ Division of Public Health Services at 271-4496 or the Centers for Disease Control at 1-800-CDC-INFO.