The warning, issued Monday by communicable disease control officials in Skåne in southern Sweden comes following the death of a 55-year-old Danish heroin user at a hospital in Copenhagen.
“Copenhagen and Malmö are very close so after the death in Denmark, we thought it best to warn heroin users here about the possible risks,” Håkan Ringberg, an infectious disease doctor with Smittskydd Skåne, told The Local.
The Danish drug user died on Sunday after being treated for several days in a Copenhagen hospital. Traces of anthrax were subsequently found in the man’s blood.
According to Ringberg, the infection can’t spread between people and the warning is directed primarily at heroin users who inject the drug.
“The risk of infection [from anthrax] comes when one injects heroin,” he said, adding his agency estimates there are “thousands” of heroin users in Sweden.
“We’re advising users not to take heroin intravenously.”
He also credited needle exchange programmes in southern Sweden for helping health authorities spread the word among users, but added that there are no signs as of yet that any anthrax-contaminated heroin has made its way to Sweden.
Earlier in the summer, there were three cases of anthrax in Germany, which was in turn connected to an earlier outbreak in Great Britain in 2010.
However, no connection has been found to tie the cases in Germany to the recent anthrax death in Denmark.
“Nothing has been established for sure. At this point, it’s still a theory, but we are warning users nonetheless,” said Ringberg.
Meanwhile, Swedish health authorities continue to maintain close contact with health officials in Denmark.
“We’ve had contact with our counterparts in Denmark and been informed of their continuing work to trace the contagion,” Sofie Ivarsson, an epidemiologist with the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control (Statens smittskyddsinstitut – SMI), told the TT news agency.
Swedish health officials have been on heightened alert since anthrax cases in German and as an on-call emergency lab standing by should any suspected anthrax cases be reported in Sweden.