South coast death puts latest toll from mystery heroin disease at 40

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The number of suspected deaths from contaminated heroin in the British Isles has risen to 40 after a man on the south coast was declared the latest victim.

The number of suspected deaths from contaminated heroin in the British Isles has risen to 40 after a man on the south coast was declared the latest victim.

Health authorities are now investigating whether the unexplained deaths related to use of the drug are caused by a strain of bacteria that resulted in gas gangrene in the world wars. A spokesman for East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Health Authority said tests had proved that the man, who died at the town's Royal Sussex County Hospital on 15 May, had been infected by Clostridium bacteria, also being blamed for the other deaths. Two addicts from Liverpool and three from Manchester have died, with seven from other parts of England, 16 from Glasgow and eight from Dublin.

Three more deaths not included in the official figures are being linked to the illness by police in Wolverhampton. Other health authorities are investigating deaths that may add another two or three victims to the toll.

The illness is linked to heroin injected into muscle and other tissue, rather than veins. Citric acid, added by users for a quicker and longer "high", speeds up the death process.

Last week scientists at Cardiff's Public Health Laboratory and the US Center for Disease Control in Atlanta identified the bacteria responsible as Clostridium novyi type A, a bug normally found in soil and animal droppings. The illness first emerged among heroin injectors in Glasgow last month.

East Sussex health authority yesterday issued the following advice:

There is no way that users can tell whether the heroin they are injecting is likely to cause this infection;

Heroin should be smoked instead of injected;

If users inject, they should not do so into muscle or under the skin, and should ensure a vein is hit. Blood is better at killing bacteria than muscle;

Needles, syringes or other equipment should not be shared;

As little citric acid as possible should be used to dissolve the heroin. A lot of citric acid can damage the muscle or the tissue under the skin, and this damage gives the bacteria a better chance to grow;

If swelling, redness or pain arises at the injection site, or pus forms under the skin, users should see a doctor immediately, especially if the infection seems different to others they may have had in the past.

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