Beware, injectable drug users are at risk of superbug infections

A type of superbug bacteria is spreading rapidly among people who inject drugs, says a new government report. Due to it, users of heroin and other injectable drugs were 16 times more likely than other people to develop severe illnesses, said the report.

“Drug use has crept up and now accounts for a substantial proportion of these very serious infections,” said Dr William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, one of the study’s authors.

The US is in the midst of its deadliest drug epidemic ever. While overdose deaths have been the main concern, studies have noted that HIV and hepatitis C infections are spreading among drug users. The authors say the new report is one of the first — and the largest — to highlight how superbug bacterial infections are spreading, too.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often live on the skin without causing symptoms. But they can become more dangerous if they enter the bloodstream, destroying heart valves or causing damage. Health officials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 US deaths a year.

Public health efforts have focussed on MRSA’s spread in hospitals and nursing homes, and infection-control campaigns have been credited for recent drops in MRSA infections at health care facilities. But as that success story has unfolded, MRSA infections tied to illicit drug use have risen. The opioid epidemic began with abuse of prescription pain pills, but in recent years has shifted to heroin and other injectable drugs.

MRSA is on the skin, and as the needle goes into the skin it brings the bacteria with it, explained Dr Isaac See of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another of the study’s authors. The proportion of invasive, bloodstream-infecting MRSA cases that occurred among injection drug users more than doubled in five years, the study found. In 2011, 4% of those MRSA cases involved injection drug users; in 2016, the proportion was 9%.

The report is based on infections diagnosed at hospitals across Connecticut and in parts of California, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and Tennessee. Data were collected between 2005 and 2016.


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