Tennessee Addiction Resources: The Various Infections and Diseases of IV Drug Use


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Intravenous or IV drug use runs a high risk for various infections. People suffering from substance abuse disorder and who use IV drugs run serious risk for contracting various illnesses. The most common illnesses and infections caused by IV drug use include Endocarditis, Hepatitis C, Sepsis, and abscesses. In this post we will discuss the various infections and diseases spread through IV drug use and their treatments.

Endocarditis from IV Drug Use

Endocarditis is a serious infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. It can be caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and attaching to damaged areas of the heart. IV drug use is a common risk factor for developing endocarditis because the needles used to inject drugs can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. When a person injects drugs intravenously, they can introduce bacteria into their bloodstream if the needle or injection site is not clean. These bacteria can travel to the heart and cause an infection in the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves.

The risk of developing endocarditis is higher for individuals who use contaminated needles, have pre-existing heart conditions, or have a weakened immune system. Symptoms of endocarditis can include fever, chills, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and changes in heart rhythm. If left untreated, endocarditis can lead to serious complications such as heart failure, stroke, and even death.

Treatment for endocarditis typically involves a combination of antibiotics to clear the infection and surgery to repair or replace damaged heart valves. It is important for individuals who use IV drugs to seek medical attention if they suspect they may have endocarditis, as early diagnosis and treatment can improve outcomes. Additionally, practicing safe injection techniques, such as using clean needles and properly cleaning injection sites, can help reduce the risk of developing endocarditis.

Hepatitus C from IV drug Use

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood, and one of the most common ways people contract hepatitis C is through sharing needles and other equipment used for injecting drugs. IV drug use is a major risk factor for hepatitis C transmission because the virus can easily be spread through blood-to-blood contact.

When individuals inject drugs intravenously, they are at risk of coming into contact with infected blood if they share needles, syringes, or other drug paraphernalia with someone who has hepatitis C. The virus can enter the bloodstream through tiny cuts or injuries on the skin and infect the liver, where it can cause inflammation and damage over time.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection may include fatigue, fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). However, many people with hepatitis C do not experience symptoms, and the infection can become chronic if left untreated. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious liver complications, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

Preventing hepatitis C transmission among individuals who inject drugs involves promoting harm reduction strategies, such as using sterile needles and not sharing drug injection equipment. Access to clean needles and syringes, as well as education on safe injection practices, can help reduce the risk of hepatitis C and other bloodborne infections. Testing for hepatitis C and other infections, along with linkage to care and treatment for those who test positive, are also important components of preventing and managing hepatitis C among individuals who engage in IV drug use.

Sepsis from IV Drug Use

Sepsis is a serious condition that can occur when the body’s response to an infection causes inflammation throughout the body. IV drug use can increase the risk of developing sepsis due to the introduction of bacteria or other pathogens into the bloodstream through contaminated needles or injection equipment.

When individuals inject drugs intravenously, they may introduce bacteria or other harmful substances into their bloodstream, leading to infections at the injection site or systemic infections that can spread throughout the body. If these infections are not promptly treated, they can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of sepsis may include fever, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion, and extreme fatigue. In severe cases, sepsis can lead to septic shock, a condition characterized by dangerously low blood pressure and organ failure.

Preventing sepsis among individuals who inject drugs involves practicing safe injection techniques, such as using sterile needles and syringes, cleaning the skin before injection, and avoiding sharing injection equipment. Seeking medical care promptly if there are signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pus at the injection site, is also important to prevent the spread of infection and the development of sepsis.

If sepsis is suspected, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Treatment for sepsis typically involves antibiotics to treat the underlying infection, intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure, and supportive care to help manage symptoms and prevent complications. Early detection and treatment of sepsis are critical for improving outcomes and reducing the risk of serious complications or death.

Abcesses from IV Drug Use

Abscesses are a common complication of IV drug use and occur when bacteria enter the skin through the injection site, leading to a localized infection. Injecting drugs intravenously can introduce bacteria, viruses, or other contaminants into the body, increasing the risk of developing abscesses at the injection site.
Abscesses typically present as painful, swollen, red lumps at the injection site and may be accompanied by warmth, tenderness, and the presence of pus. If left untreated, abscesses can worsen and lead to serious complications, such as cellulitis (a skin infection), deeper tissue infections, or the formation of pockets of pus called “skin boils.”

Preventing abscesses among individuals who inject drugs involves practicing proper injection hygiene and technique. Using sterile needles and syringes for each injection, cleaning the skin with alcohol or an antiseptic before injecting, and avoiding sharing injection equipment can help reduce the risk of infection. It is also important to rotate injection sites to prevent repeated trauma to the same area and to allow previous sites to heal properly.

If an abscess does develop, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Treatment for abscesses may involve draining the pus from the affected area, cleaning the wound, and prescribing antibiotics to treat the infection. In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the abscess and prevent further complications.

It is essential for individuals who inject drugs to be aware of the risks associated with abscesses and other injection-related complications. Seeking medical care early and following proper hygiene practices can help prevent abscesses and reduce the likelihood of more severe infections or complications.

While these represent the most common infections caused by IV drug use there are many more. It is important to seek treatment if you are struggling with a substance abuse issue. If treatment is not an immediate option, the least one can do is practice harm reduction by not sharing needles and practicing proper sanitary precautions. If you are struggling with a substance abuse issue call Magnolia Ranch Recovery today and start on the road to lasting recovery.

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Picture of Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP
Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP

Experienced Clinical Director with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & health care industry. Skilled in Anger Management, Healthcare, Medicine, EMDR, and Life Transitions. Strong healthcare services professional with a Masters Degree focused in Psychology from The University of Memphis.

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