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Cause of botulism cluster must be investigated – Ó Snodaigh

10 December, 2008 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has expressed concern at a significant increase in the number of people presenting at hospital with the potentially fatal desease botulism this year. A response from the Minister for Health to a Dáil question from Deputy Ó Snodaigh has shown that since January 2004 only six cases of botulism have presented at hospitals in the state however five of them have been post January this year. Four of these cases were among injecting drug users.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh called on the Minister to launch an investigation into the cause of this cluster of cases including the possibility that a bad batch or highly purity batch of heroin is the cause.

He said, "Botulism is a potentially fatal disease caused by a botulinum toxin, produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Since January 2004 just six cases of botulism have presented in hospitals in this state. Five of those cases presented this year and four of them were injecting drug users with presumed cases of what's called wound botulism.

"Published medical studies point to a number of possible causes, better described as risk factors, contributing to cases of wound botulism. It can be caused by contaminated batchs of heroin or higher purity heroin because more acidulant (e.g. citric acid) must be used to make it soluble which increases the likelihood of skin wounds, or skin popping or muscle popping which also increase the likelihood of wounds.

"The Minister must launch an investigation into the cause of this cluster of botulism cases including the possibility that a certain batch of heroin is the contributing factor. If this is found to be the case then a publicity campaign must be embarked upon in order to warn drug users that there is a potentially fatal batch of heroin on the streets and every effort must be made to take this batch off the streets.

"If this batch of botulism is found to be caused by bad practice on the part of drug users then the Minister needs to initiate a targeted public health information campaign for drug addicts around safer injecting habits.

"Health workers must also be made aware of the likely presentation of botulism at hospitals and of the precautions that must be taken when dealing with these cases." ENDS

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