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Hippie hazard! Drum circle spreads rhythm – and anthrax

Those hide-covered instruments that bring so much rhythmic pleasure may also be a source of dangerous illness: anthrax poisoning.

That's the word from government health officials following up on the case of a 24-year-old New Hampshire woman who developed gastrointestinal anthrax following a drumming circle late last year.

The woman, a vegan and organic farmer, had to undergo bowel surgery and nearly two months of hospitalization after she contracted the potentially deadly disease, apparently from the contaminated surfaces of hide-bound drums.

Her case is examined in the latest edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As many as 84 people may have been exposed to the tainted instruments during a drumming circle held at a community center in late December 2009, although the young woman was the only reported case of illness.

A CDC probe pinpointed the culprits: A 3-foot hairy cowhide drum and a tiny tambourine-like drum.

Other drummers or drum-makers who use animal hides have come down with anthrax in the past, but they had the kind that develops from breaks in the skin or when the anthrax spores are inhaled. The New Hampshire woman was the first to develop the gut-based form of the infection that made her so sick.

The drums used by the woman had a long history of use by others who didn't come down with anthrax and CDC investigators couldn't say exactly why. In any case, they conclude that the risk of infection is extremely low, partly because U.S. livestock regulations mean animal hides used here for drums aren't likely to be contaminated.

As for the victim, she's recovered and is doing well. No word on whether she's still got the beat.

Still, for those who aren't wild about drumming circles, anthrax poisoning may be one more reason to avoid them.

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