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Countywide Focus

Heroin Suspected in Botulism Case

October 05, 1995|ANDREW D. BLECHMAN

Public health officials suspect that tainted Mexican black-tar heroin has led to at least one case of botulism in Ventura County.

One county resident is suffering from the neurotoxin and another is showing some of its symptoms, according to Ellen Dewey, a Ventura County public health nurse. Both are being treated in Ventura hospitals.

Public health officials urge anyone who suspects they may have botulism to seek medical attention immediately.

Botulism is a bacterial infection that attacks the nervous system, causing symptoms ranging from blurred vision to temporary paralysis and respiratory failure. A drug user's first sign of infection may be a needle wound that will not heal, health officials said.

Botulism's incubation period is four to 14 days. The disease is treatable, but recovery often takes months, health officials said.

"It is one of the most lethal toxins known to man," said Ben Werner, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services in Berkeley.

There have been about a dozen cases of drug-related botulism confirmed statewide this year, Werner said.

The potent Mexican black-tar heroin, named because of its dark, gooey appearance, is "the most widely used form of heroin in Ventura County," said Ralph Lochridge, a spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in Los Angeles.

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