Drug Users at Risk of Serious Infections

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

By Newsdesk
Wednesday, January 11, 2012.
Drug users are at an increased risk of developing bacterial infections such as wound botulism and tetanus, according to the latest Health Protection Agency (HPA) annual report “Shooting Up” published today (Thursday).
Prior to 2000, no cases of wound botulism had been associated with PWID in the UK, but in the past decade 163 suspected cases have been reported to the HPA. Tetanus infections show a similar trend, very rarely reported among people who inject drugs before 2003, with 34 cases having been reported since.
These types of bacteria can cause wound infections that produce very severe wound infections. Wound botulism can lead to paralysis, and tetanus can cause ‘Lockjaw’ and painful spasms. Both of these infections can result in serious problems with breathing, which on rare occasions can be fatal.
The bacteria that cause these infections can end up in drugs like heroin through environmental contamination. Batches of drugs can become contaminated during production or transit. This can result in clusters of cases along the distribution networks. Infection may also result from injecting equipment becoming contaminated when an injection is being prepared in a place where bacterial spores are present in the soil.
 The report also found that a range of other bacterial infections, including MRSA, and viral infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C, are continuing to occur among people who inject drugs.
 Dr Fortune Ncube, a consultant epidemiologist at the HPA and one of the report’s authors, said: “This latest report shows that people who use drugs face an ever increasing range of potential risks if they continue to inject. These bacterial infections can cause serious illness and even death in some circumstances.
 “The best advice is to avoid injecting drugs and for users to seek treatment for their drug use.  If people choose to continue to use drugs, then they should have access to healthcare services that will help them avoid potential infections, and support them in accessing suitable treatments options for their drug use.
This annual report is produced in collaboration with Health Protection Scotland,  Public Health Wales, and Public Health Agency Northern Ireland The report identifies trends in infections among PWID to help inform commissioning community based service.
Dr Ncube points outs that regular testing is helpful in the early identification of viral infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. It is also important for people who inject drugs to seek prompt medical advice for symptoms of a possible bacterial infection in order to avoid developing severe complications.
 He says: “The majority of these infections among people who inject drugs are preventable.
Vaccines are available against tetanus and hepatitis B, and clean syringes, sterile swabs and good hygiene can help prevent bacterial infections and blood borne viruses like Hepatitis C and HIV.
 “Healthcare workers are advised to be on the lookout for these infections when caring for people who inject drugs, prompt identification and treatment means a better outcome for patients”

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