A flesh-eating bacteria associated with black-tar heroin has taken the lives of seven people in San Diego within the last two months. Now, the San Diego County Health and Human Services is warning health officials to stay cautious.
According to the health department, these seven people died from myonecrosis, a severe infection that destroys muscle tissue. All of them were between the ages of 19 to 57, and five were male.
According to the New York Times, the seven deceased victims were "among nine people admitted between Oct. 2 and Nov. 24 to county hospitals with the condition after injecting black-tar heroin, a dark, sticky drug that often contains impurities resulting from crude processing methods."
Two of the ones admitted still remain hospitalized, and while one is expected to survive, the other is “quite ill,” Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director for the epidemiology program at the county health agency, told the Times.
“You just have to recognize it really early and have early surgery, and give antibiotics really quickly, and hope that not enough toxin has been produced to cause death,” McDonald said, explaining that the outbreak was the most serious the county has seen in 10 years.
It's still unclear where the source of this particular heroin is, however an investigation is underway, according to county representatives.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that most black-tar heroin is produced in Mexico and sold in the United States west of the Mississippi River.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, a county public health official, told the Times that black-tar heroin users are at higher risk of dying from an overdose and are more prone to developing myonecrosis and wound botulism, a rare but serious illness that attacks the body’s nerves.
Myonecrosi symptoms include severe pain and swelling around a wound or injection site; pale skin that quickly turns gray, dark red, purple or black; blisters with a foul-smelling discharge; air under the skin; and fever.
The county is urging the city to be on alert for additional cases.