Butte Co. Public Health investigating case of wound botulism from black tar heroin

The Butte County Public Health Department is currently investigating a case of wound botulism in a Butte County resident who injected themselves with black tar heroin. Officials added laboratory testing to confirm the diagnosis is pending.

The source of the heroin is unknown at this time and the patient remains hospitalized and on a ventilator.

Officials said black tar heroin has been linked to other wound botulism outbreaks in injection drug users, so there is concern that locally available black tar heroin may be contaminated.

Wound botulism occurs when a wound becomes infected with Clostridium botulinum or a closely related Clostridium bacterium. The bacteria multiplies in the wound and creates a toxin that acts on the nerves. Officials said most, but not all, people with wound botulism will have a visibly infected wound.

Officials added people injecting black tar heroin into their muscles or under their skin are at highest risk of wound botulism. People with wound botulism cannot transmit the illness to others.

Officials said symptoms of wound botulism occur within days or weeks of injecting contaminated drug and may be mistaken for drug overdose. Symptoms can include weak or drooping eyelids, blurred or double vision, dry mouth, sore throat, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, difficulty breathing, and a progressive symmetric paralysis that begins at the face and head and travels down the body.

If left untreated, symptoms may progress to paralysis of the respiratory muscles, arms, legs, and trunk with subsequent death. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical to decreasing the severity and duration of illness.

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