Health officials in New Mexico are warning drug users about the dangers of a rare infection known as wound botulism. While wound botulism affects just 20 people on average per year in the United States, officials are concerned after investigating two suspected cases of the infection.
They said that the cases were linked to the use of black tar heroin and methamphetamines.
Spores of the bacteria can get into a wound and create a toxin that attacks the body's nerves. Early symptoms include weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth, and throat. It then spreads to other parts of the body, including the neck, torso, arms, and legs.
If left untreated, the toxin can cause blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and breathing, paralysis, and eventually death.
The infection can be treated with an antitoxin, but the damage caused by botulism is permanent. Patients can spend several weeks or months in the hospital following treatment.
"The [New Mexico Department of Health] recommends that all clinicians be alert for cases of wound botulism, especially in injection drug users," the agency said in a statement.
Clinicians should "warn persons who inject drugs about wound botulism including informing them of the signs and symptoms and the need to seek medical care immediately," the statement continued.