Botulism outbreak linked to heroin

An outbreak of nine cases of a rare but serious disease called wound botulism was reported in San Diego County in nine months.  Federal health officials say it is linked to black tar heroin use.

Wound botulism happens when a germ called Clostridium botulinum gets into a wound and makes a toxin. This toxin attacks the body’s nerve.

Symptoms of the disease include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and muscle weakness or paralysis and even death. Prompt treatment with botulism antitoxin can save lives, though.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it is likely underdiagnosed among heroin users because the symptoms appear similar to opioid intoxication, overdose, and other neurologic syndromes.

Typically, one case of wound botulism is reported in San Diego County annually and about 20 people nationally are diagnosed. However, between Sept. 2017 and May, 2018 there were nine cases in San Diego County alone.%INLINE%

Officials don’t know how black tar heroin gets contaminated with the germ that causes botulism. Because the germ lives in soil, it might get into heroin when the drug is produced or transported, when it is cut or mixed with other substances, when it is prepared for use, or through some other way.

Increased heroin use is tied to the national opioid abuse epidemic.  Health officials warn that as opioid misuse increases, more awareness is needed on the risks and symptoms of wound botulism.