A New Hampshire woman has developed what may be the nation's first case of gastrointestinal anthrax, with animal hides on imported drums suspected as the source.
The unidentified woman, now hospitalized out of state, became ill in December. The New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services made the announcement after the anthrax infection was confirmed.
There have been no other confirmed cases of gastrointestinal anthrax in the United States. Most reported cases have occurred in rural areas of Africa and southeast Asia where anthrax is endemic.
Officials indicated that the woman may have ingested airborne spores released during a "drum circle" event Dec. 4 at the United Campus Ministry, a religious center on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham.
The Division of Public Health Services announced Tuesday that three samples taken from the building had tested positive for anthrax spores.
Drum circle events were hosted regularly at the center, where many drums were also stored.
"This new information indicates there is a low level of contamination in the drum room at the Ministry building," said Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, medical adviser to the division, in a statement.
Investigators from the division and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet determined if they are a genetic match with the woman's infection.
Many of the drums came from Africa and had animal hide coverings. Three U.S. cases of cutaneous or inhalational anthrax in 2006 and 2007 were attributed to spores released from imported drums.
The New Hampshire woman was believed to have used a drum with a synthetic fabric head, but spores could have come from other drums used in the event.
Public health officials have offered antibiotics and anthrax vaccinations to anyone who attended recent drum circle events or who worked in the building -- as many as 80 people altogether. Attendees who brought their own drums from home were also encouraged to contact the division to have them tested.
Coincidentally, New Hampshire was also the site of what may be the largest U.S. outbreak of anthrax. From 1941 to 1966, nearly 150 workers at a Manchester textile mill developed inhalational or cutaneous anthrax.
Spores are believed to have entered the mill in raw goat hairs from what is now Pakistan, used in the linings of men's suit jackets. A total of nine people died.
The building was eventually razed in 1976, according to a 2005 report in the Manchester Union Leader. Combustible materials were incinerated at ultrahigh temperatures and other building components were soaked in formaldehyde, buried, and paved over.