Alert as possible botulism case investigated

Injecting drug users are being urged to be “extremely alert” after health officials confirmed they were investigating a possible case of botulism – an infection which can cause paralysis.

The person suspected of having the infection is a drug user and NHS Shetland’s public health department is working alongside Health Protection Shetland to confirm the diagnosis.

The patient is receiving treatment and is said to be in a stable condition.

Cases of botulism have been reported recently in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. Some have been confirmed with others under investigation. The cause of this possible infection locally is being investigated with the focus on intravenous drug use.

Botulism is a rare condition and is not passed on from person to person. It is caused by botulinum toxin, a poison produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The organism can be found in soil, dust, and river or sea sediments and can survive in these environments as a resistant spore.

The bacteria themselves are not harmful, but they can produce highly poisonous toxins when they have no oxygen (such as in closed cans or bottles, stagnant soil or mud, or occasionally the human body).

Dr Susan Laidlaw, NHS Shetland’s consultant in public health medicine, said: “I would urge all injecting drug usersto be extremely alert to the symptoms of this infection, You should seek urgent medical attention from Accident and Emergency if you experience any early symptoms such as blurred or double vision, difficulty in swallowing and speaking and/or inflammation at the injection site.

“We have a range of services in Shetland to help drug users tackle their drug problems. But for those who continue to inject drugs, it is extremely important that they seek urgent medical help if they show these early symptoms.”

Symptoms often begin with blurred or double vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking. There may be local inflammation at an injection site in cases associated with intravenous drug use. If the condition is not treated quickly the disease can progress to a paralysis that can affect the arms, legs, and eventually the muscles that control breathing.

• Services for drug users in Shetland, including CADSS, the Substance Misuse Clinic and the needle exchange at AL Laing Community Pharmacy , are providing information for drug users on reducing the risk of Botulism and symptoms to watch out for.


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