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Nov 1, 2016 6:27 PM

Heroin use may be link between potentially deadly blood infection cases in NH

CONCORD — State health officials are asking healthcare providers and drug treatment facilities to watch for symptoms of a potentially deadly blood infection that has been diagnosed in four drug users who inject heroin.

The Department of Health and Human Services sent an alert, announcing four cases of invasive Group A Streptococcal bacteremia found in the last 10 days.

All four patients are male heroin users from southern/central New Hampshire, officials said.

It is unclear if these cases are connected, but injection drug use is a risk factor for invasive bacterial infections, officials said.

"We believe these four individuals who have bloodstream infections have acquired their illness from injection use," said Beth Daly, Chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease at DHHS.

It's unclear how the men contracted the invasive bacteria. It could be linked back to dirty needles or the heroin itself. A person handling or packaging the drugs could have contaminated the batch, and when it is injected it can then contaminate the users bloodstream, Daly said.

Law enforcement has been informed of the investigation, Daly said.

The potential for diseases to spread amid the drug crisis is why Rep. Joe Hannon, of Lee is pushing for a needle exchange program.

"Considering the gravity of the situation in New Hampshire we really must act now before we have a serious outbreak," Hannon said.

Hannon is on the Commission of Hypodermic Syringes and Needles, a group working with health officials to legalize privately funded needle exchanges. Under current state law, needle exchanges are illegal.

"The spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other infections like Group A streptococcus can be preventable. Access to clean syringes, and being able to legally and safely dispose of them, is imperative to public health and safety," Hannon said.

Healthcare providers are asked to ask patients with invasive Group A Streptococcal infections about any illicit drug use history and report cases to the state.

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