For people who inject drugs (PWIDs) viral and bacterial infections are a constant danger, and can result in illness and even death. Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, HIV, wound botulism, Staphylococcus aureus, tetanus and even anthrax are among the nasties that drug users are at increased risk of contracting.
While the sharing of needles is the cause of many of these infections, you don’t have to indulge in that particularly unwise behavior to end up with a potentially fatal infection.
Reusing your own needles, or injecting into a contaminated (dirty) arm, can easily introduce bacteria into the user’s system (including tetanus).
And in recent years, batches of heroin have been reported across Europe contaminated with anthrax spores, likely an unintentional contamination during the processing of the drug.
This from the UK’s HPA earlier this week:
2 November 2012
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is aware that a person who injected heroin has been diagnosed with anthrax infection in Oxford. The patient is recovering.
This case has occurred after two people who injected drugs died from confirmed anthrax infection in Blackpool within a month of each other in August and September this year.
There is an ongoing outbreak of anthrax among people who inject drugs in a number of countries in Europe with 12 cases now identified since early June. The latest case in Oxford brings the total number affected in the UK to five – three in England (two fatal, one recovering), one in Scotland and one in Wales (both recovering).The source is presumed to be contaminated heroin.
The HPA today has published a sobering report on the impact of infections associated with the injection of street drugs. This is an update of a 2011 report, with an emphasis on Hepatitis B.
Health Protection Agency
Publication date: November 2012
- Hepatitis B infection among people who inject drugs has declined over the last decade. One in six people who inject drugs had ever been infected with the hepatitis B virus in 2011.
- This decline most probably reflects the marked increase in the uptake of the hepatitis B vaccine among people who inject drugs. Targeting vaccination to this group needs to be maintained if the current low level of new infections is to be sustained.
- Other infections remain common among people who inject drugs in the UK. Around half have been infected with hepatitis C, and around one in every 100 has HIV.
- Bacterial infections remain a problem among people who inject drugs, with almost one-third reporting a symptom of a bacterial infection (such as a sore or abscess) at an injecting site in the past year.
- Needle and syringe sharing is lower than a decade ago, although around one-sixth of people who inject drugs continue to share needles and syringes.
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While this report is UK specific, the UK has no corner on these types of infections among injectable drug users.