Officials with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is currently investigating a case of apparent wound botulism in a 21-year-old female from Doña Ana County.

Public domain photo/Psychonaught
Public domain photo/Psychonaught

The suspected source of infection is contaminated black tar heroin. The patient injected black tar heroin under the skin, also known as “skin popping.” The woman is currently hospitalized.

This is the first case of wound botulism that has been reported to NMDOH this year. There was one confirmed cases in Doña Ana County in 2017. It is not known if there are other cases in New Mexico, or neighboring communities of Texas, or the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“We are asking healthcare providers to carefully consider wound botulism in patients who are showing symptoms, especially if they have a history of injection drug use,” said NMDOH Cabinet Lynn Gallagher. “People who inject drugs should be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with wound botulism and seek immediate medical attention if they begin to experience any of those signs or symptoms.”

Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Wound botulism is caused by a toxin produced from an infected wound. Injecting heroin under the skin where there is little or no oxygen available allows the organism to grow and produce a deadly toxin leading to progressive descending muscle paralysis and death.