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7 San Diegans die from flesh-eating bacteria linked to black tar heroin

Posted at 7:01 PM, Dec 05, 2019

SAN DIEGO — Seven people are dead after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria linked to black tar heroin use in San Diego.

County health officials said nine people who injected black tar heroin were admitted to county hospitals between Oct. 2 and Nov. 24 with a bacterial infection called myonecrosis, which is a severe soft tissue infection that destroys muscle.

Of those victims, seven have died. The patients range in age from 19 to 57 years old.

“People who use black tar heroin are not only at higher risk of dying from an overdose, but also more prone to developing myonecrosis and wound botulism,” said Wilma Wooten, county public health officer.

One confirmed case of wound botulism linked to black tar heroin use was also reported in October — the first confirmed case in the county this year.

Wound botulism, which attacks the body’s nerves, is also linked to heroin use. People who inject illicit narcotics like black tar heroin are at a higher risk of developing both infections, the county says. Last year, seven cases of wound botulism were reported in the county.

In Southern California, 13 probable and confirmed wound botulism cases — most of them linked to black tar heroin — have been reported since Sept. 1, the county says.

The source of the black tar heroin linked to the infections is unknown and officials are currently investigating. Additional cases may be reported.

Symptoms of severe myonecrosis can include severe pain; pale skin that quickly turns gray, dark red, purple, or black; foul-smelling blisters; fever; and increased heart rate. Severe instances can spread throughout the body and cause shock, leading to amputations or death if untreated.

People who are experiencing drug addiction or substance use disorders are encouraged to seek help through the county's crisis line at 888-724-7240.

This article was written by Mark Saunders for KGTV.