A flesh-eating bacteria linked to the use of black tar heroin has killed at least seven people over the past two months in the San Diego area, prompting health authorities to alert law enforcement and other officials in California.
Nine people who injected black tar heroin between Oct. 2 and Nov. 24 were hospitalized with severe myonecrosis, a soft-tissue infection that destroys muscles. Of the seven who died, five were men. The nine patients ranged from 19 to 57.
Also, 13 people in Southern California have been diagnosed with wound botulism since Sept. 1, which also may be tied to black tar heroin, said Dr. Eric McDonald, director of epidemiology and immunization services at the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency.
Law enforcement agencies are trying to determine the source of the heroin. It is unclear exactly how the bacteria was transmitted.
“It can be in the dirt, it can be on the surface of your skin, it can be the surface of a needle, but when you have a cluster like this, it makes it very suspicious that it’s the actual black tar heroin itself that’s contaminated,” McDonald said. “We’re sort of operating under that assumption.” Officials have advised the local medical community to watch for additional cases of myonecrosis and wound botulism, a rare but serious illness that attacks the body’s nerves and is also linked to black tar heroin use.