Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jul 2001
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2001 The Irish Times
Author: Kitty Holland


Three heroin addicts have been admitted to Dublin hospitals with symptoms 
of the "flesh-eating" disease which has also emerged among drug-users in 

The illness is not, however, the same as one that killed 40 drug-users here 
and in Britain last year.  Ms Elaine McKean, spokeswoman for the Greater 
Glasgow Health Board, confirmed that the outbreak was not caused by the 
Clostridium  Novyi bacterium identified among intravenous drug-users last year.

"It is quite different but still very serious, serious enough that we have 
issued this warning even before we are certain that a widespread problem 
exists." She said the cause may not be contaminated heroin but dirty 
needles or syringes and added that "investigations are ongoing".

No details were available about the condition of the three addicts admitted 
to hospital here last night. Two male addicts were hospitalised in Glasgow 
on Tuesday suffering from necrotising fasciitis. It is understood that one 
has had a leg amputated.

Drug-users here have been urged to visit their GP or local hospital 
immediately if they notice any unusual symptoms, particularly abscesses 
around the site of injection.

Dr Brian O'Herlihy, director of public health with the Eastern Regional 
Health Authority, emphasised the "very serious danger" to heroin users, 
particularly those injecting into muscle.

All acute hospitals, accident and emergency clinics and drug clinics in the 
eastern region have been alerted and urged to report suspicious symptoms to 
the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC).

Last summer 15 addicts were affected by an illness caused by the injection 
of heroin, particularly into muscle, contaminated with an anaerobic 
bacterium of the Clostridium family. The eight who died were aged between 
22 and 51. Six were men.

The bacterium flourishes in the absence of oxygen but dies in its presence. 
It can exist in "suspended animation"' as spores in soil and dust. If the 
heroin is cut with contaminated dust, it flourishes and multiplies once 
injected into the oxygen-free environment of the body.

In last year's outbreak, abscesses on the skin were followed by a rapid, 
systemic spread through the body. Vital organs were attacked causing 
eventual collapse and death.

Director of the NDSC Ms Darina O'Flanagan confirmed the latest outbreak was 
possibly not caused by the same bacterium. She said the bacterium this time 
could be a member of the Group A streptococcus family.  "At this stage we 
are just trying to isolate the illness to see if is the same as last year's."
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