Musician and Drum-Maker Dies After Contracting Anthrax from Animal Skins

File under bizarre and tragic: a Hackney, England drum-maker man has died following the inhalation of anthrax spores after handling animal skins. Fernando Gomez, a 35-year-old Spanish folk musician, died in Homerton University Hospital November 2, surrounded by his wife and family.

While this story is a rare one, it is not the first instance of a drum-maker dying of anthrax spore inhalation. In 2006, Christopher Norris, an artist and drum-maker from Scotland, died after inhaling anthrax from touching West African animal skins at a drumming workshop. Since 1974, there have been only four known cases worldwide of drum-makers dying from anthrax apart from Gomez and Norris. While many drum skins are created using man-made materials, other traditional drums like djembes and bodhrans will always use the skin of cows, goat, and deer. Some drum-makers prefer the more exotic skins of bison, yak, and llamas.

Anthrax cannot be passed between persons, and Health Protection Agency (HPA) officers have sealed Gomez’ apartment and workshop for testing and cleansing. Eight other people who had been in the room where the spores were inhaled have been given precautionary antibiotics, but are not thought to be in danger of contracting anthrax, nor are the nearby neighbors of Gomez’ east London flat. Professor Nigel Lightfoot, chief advisor to the HPA, said in a statement, “We have stressed to all residents throughout this incident that there is no risk to their health as a result of the case of anthrax, or the testing.”

Lightfoot added, and in turn, eased the high-strung nature of skin-thumpers throughout our world, “It is important to stress that it is the making of the animal skin drums that is the risk from coming into contact with anthrax rather than playing or handling drums.”

An inquest has been opened to determine the source of the spores and the HPA began carrying out tests in Gomez’ apartment this week. Gomez taught music to local children on the Morningside Estate in Hackney and was a member of an alternative folk group called alasVALS.