Cellulitis is a common bacterial infection of the skin that usually affects a limb but can occur anywhere on the body. The infection is caused by a type of bacteria, usually streptococcus or staphylococcus entering the skin and infecting the layers of the skin but not the outer part.
Injecting drug users commonly contract cellulitis. This is primarily due to unclean injection procedures. Although the condition is not directly contagious, the bacteria associated with the infection can be passed on to other people. Intravenous drug users who share needles and other associated equipment can pass the infection on to others.
Symptoms of cellulitis are usually localized to the infection area but patients can become generally unwell with fevers, chills and shakes. The infected area will be warm to touch, painful and tender with redness or inflammation at the site. The infection will typically spread rapidly within the first 24 hours and the skin will have a stretched, glossy appearance.
Cellulitis can easily be treated with antibiotics, however most injecting drug users will experience the infection if they continue to inject drugs. If left untreated, it can cause lymphatic or circulatory system issues. Complications can arise which include the formation of abscesses and gangrenous cellulitis. If the infection is due to streptococcus, it can lead to septic shock and death if not treated.
Of all the ways to administer drugs, injecting drugs carries the most risks as it bypasses the body’s natural filtering mechanisms against disease and bacteria. Unsanitary conditions, sharing of needles and equipment, blunt needles and dirty water all contribute to disease and infection. Infection rates can be reduced by using new needles every time and following safe injection methods, but even these do not safeguard against all diseases or infections.
Drug users should never share equipment or needles. They should always sterilize their equipment, clean the site of injection and dispose of needles safely. If any sign of disease of infection is noted, the drug user should immediately seek medical assistance to reduce the potentially fatal consequences of infection.
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