An outbreak of serious illness and death occurred in injecting drug users during 2000 in Scotland, Ireland and England. National and international collaboration was necessary for the investigation and management of this outbreak. In England and Wales active case-finding was initiated, coupled with standardised data collection and microbiological investigation of cases. Twenty-six definite or probable cases were identified in England between 1 April and 31 Aug. 2000; 17 of these occurred in the North. The overall case fatality was 50% (13/26). The principal apparent risk factor was a history of intramuscular or subcutaneous injection of heroin and the limited duration of the outbreak suggested that the problem might have been related to a particular supply of heroin. was isolated from two English cases. Taken in conjunction with contemporaneous microbiological and epidemiological results from Scottish and Irish cases, the probable aetiology for this outbreak was infection with associated with both a particular supply of heroin and the method of preparation and injection used. A ‘toolkit’ was distributed in Sept. 2000 to all Consultants for Communicable Disease Control in England and Wales to assist them with the ongoing surveillance, investigation and management of this condition. Lessons learned have been used to produce guidance for the investigation and management of outbreaks of unexplained serious illness of possible infective aetiology.


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