If a disease has a vector, than chances are that the vector could be replaced with a needle and syringe.
You see diseases spread through needles all the time, with Hep C being one of the clearest examples of this (here in Scotland around half of the injecting drug using population have Hep C). Sometimes though, the disease is a bit more exotic.
In 1980’s Madrid, five injecting drug users (IDUs) who’d never been to a malarial zone, were hospitalised with the infection after sharing equipment with a friend who’d just returned from Guinea. This outbreak wasn’t a once off (it wasn’t even the first time it had happened in Spain); similar cases had been reported in the US for decades.
In Manhattan in 1933, a sailor just back from sea was found slumped in a park, with all the signs of an overdose. It wasn’t until after he died and was autopsied that the real diagnosis of malaria was made (determining where he’d caught the disease was made easier by the fact that every port he’d visited was tattooed on his arms)
Unfortunately, before coming into hospital this sailor had visited a shooting gallery, and shared equipment with others (similar to what’s pictured below). In total 49 IDUs caught malaria, and 22 died.
But what occurred in 1940’s Chicago is an example of fantastic resourcefulness from the city’s dealers. Noticing they had a similar outbreak amongst their clients (and perhaps with knowledge of how many customers died in New York), they came up with a solution; cut their heroin with quinine. Quinine’s still found in heroin today, its bitter taste being used to fool many into believing the heroin’s pure, and when injected it helps increase the rush felt. But it’s also one of the oldest antimalarials.
So antimalarials were added to the city’s heroin supply, and thanks to their unpredicted advantages they stayed put. What’s brilliant though, is that this 1940s solution to sick customers was saving lives in 1980’s Spain, as the quinine in heroin kept the outbreak in check. Through cutting the heroin, you cut the cases of malaria.
This is a short post (read: rushed, incomplete, and a bit rubbish) in attempt to get back into posting on here. Over the last month I’ve been looking into what infections seem to occur more in IDU’s, and will be posting more on the subject over the next few weeks.