Spore forming bacteria infections and people who inject drugs: implications for harm reduction

Karen Dunleavy, Alison Munro, Kirsty Roy, Sharon Hutchinson, Norah Palmateer, Tony Knox, David Goldberg, Vivian Hope, John Campbell, Emma Hamilton, David Liddell, Gillian Penrice, Avril Taylor

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: There is no research on public health interventions that alert people who inject drugs (PWID) to clusters/outbreaks of severe bacterial infections. In Scotland, during the botulism cluster/outbreak of Dec 2014-July 2015 harm reduction (HR) messages detailed on a postcard (Botulism Postcard) were distributed to PWID between Feb-April 2015. We examined the impact of the Botulism Postcard on cluster/outbreak awareness, healthcare seeking and HR behaviours among PWID; and their views on such clusters/outbreaks.

METHODS: The Botulism Postcard questionnaire survey was undertaken with 288 PWID recruited in Greater Glasgow and Clyde between May-August 2015. Multivariate logistic regression was undertaken. Between Oct 2015-January 2016 22 in-depth interviews were conducted with PWID in Glasgow and Edinburgh, these underwent thematic analysis.

RESULTS: 38% (108/284) had never seen the postcard, 14% (40/284) had only seen it, 34% (98/284) read but not discussed it and 13% (38/284) had discussed it with service staff. Cluster/outbreak awareness was higher among those who had read (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 5.374, CI 2.394-11.349, p < 0.001) or discussed the postcard (aOR = 25.114, CI 3.188-190.550, p < 0.001); and symptom awareness was higher among those who had read (aOR = 2.664, CI 1.322-4.890, p < 0.001) or discussed the postcard (aOR = 6.707, CI 2.744 16.252, p < 0.001) than among those who had never seen it. The odds of introducing HR was higher among those who had discussed the postcard (AOR = 3.304 CI 1.425 7.660, p < 0.01) than those who had only read it. PWID learnt about clusters/outbreaks from several sources and despite concerns they continued to inject during such events.

CONCLUSION: More widespread exposure to the Botulism Postcard during the outbreak/cluster was needed. The Botulism Postcard distributed to PWID may raise awareness of such events, the symptoms, and may encourage HR particularly when used as a tool by frontline staff to initiate discussion. Acknowledging that people continue to inject during clusters/outbreaks of such infections necessitates a pragmatic HR approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date24 Dec 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Dec 2017


  • botulism
  • spore forming bacteria
  • clusters/outbreak
  • people who inject drugs
  • harm reduction
  • public health intervention


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