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Spore-forming Bacteria and Illegal Drug Use

  • Synopsis: Published: 2015-05-13 - Information regarding spore forming bacteria and the increase in illness and death among people who inject drugs. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World at Disabled World.
Spore Forming Bacteria

A bacterial spore is a spore or spore-like structure produced by bacteria. These include endospores, Akinetes, and spores produced by Actinobacteria and Azotobacter. An endospore is a dormant, tough, and non-reproductive structure produced by certain bacteria from the Firmicute phylum. Bacterial spores are extremely resistant. Spores of tetanus and anthrax, for example, can survive in the soil for many years.

Main Document

Quote: "Some species of the bacteria are used on a commercial basis to produce ethanol, acetone and to convert fatty acids to propanediol or yeasts."

From the year 2000 in the United Kingdom, infections caused by spore-forming bacteria have been associated with an increase in illness and death among people who inject drugs. To assess geographic and temporal trends in these illnesses (tetanus, botulism, Clostridium novyi infection and anthrax), rates were compared across Scotland and England during the period between 2000 and 2009. Overall, 295 infections were reported - 4.01 per thousand persons who injected drugs in Scotland and 1.45 per thousand in England.

The higher rate in Scotland was largely attributable to anthrax and C. novyi infections. Rates of tetanus and botulism were comparable in both countries. The geographic and temporal clustering of instances of anthrax and C. novyi into outbreaks suggests potential contamination of specific heroin batches. In contrast, the more sporadic nature of botulism and tetanus instances suggests that the spores might more commonly exist in the supply of drugs, or local environment, although at varying levels. People who inject drugs should be advised about injections hygiene, risks, vaccinations and treatment programs.

Spore-Forming Bacteria Types

Bacteria are a large group of unicellular, microscopic organisms that exist either as parasites, or independently. Some bacteria have the capability to form spores around themselves, which allows the organism to survive in hostile environmental conditions. Bacterial spores are made of a tough outer layer of keratin that is resistant to staining, heat and chemicals. The spore allows the bacterium to remain dormant for a period of years, protecting it from different traumas such as the absence of air, water, or nutrients, as well as temperature differences. Spore-forming bacteria cause a variety of diseases including:

  • Anthrax
  • Tetanus
  • Botulism
  • Acute food poisoning

What follows are types of spore-forming bacteria.

Sporosarcina: Sporosarcina are a group of round-shaped aerobic bacteria that include Sporosarcina globispora, Sporosarcina aquimarina, Sporosarcina koreensis, Sporosarcina halophila, Sporosarcina ureae, and Sporosarcina luteola. Sporosarcina is believed to play a part in the decomposition of urea in the soil.

Sporolactobacillus: 'Sporolactobacillus,' is a group of rod-shaped, anaerobic, spore-forming bacteria that include Sporolactobacillus inulinus, Sporolactobacillus dextrus, Sporolactobacillus laevis, Sporolactobacillus terrae and Sporolactobacillus vineae. Sporolactobacillus are also known as, 'lactic-acid bacteria,' because they are able to produce the acid from sucrose, fructose, mannose, raffinose, sorbitol and inulin. Sporolactobacillus are found in the soil and often times in chicken feed. The spores formed by Sporolactobacillus are less resistant to heat than those formed by the Bacillus genus.

Bacillus: 'Bacillus,' is a specific genus of rod-shaped bacteria that have the ability to form spores. Bacillus are aerobic, sporulating and ubiquitous in nature. Bacillus is a fairly large group with a number of members, to include Bacillus clausii, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus haldenitrificans. Bacillus spores are also referred to as, 'endospores,' and are resistant to harsh physical conditions and chemicals. Their resistance makes the bacteria able to withstand radiation, disinfectants, heat and desiccation. Bacillus are a common cause of both medical and food contamination and are many times difficult to eliminate.

Clostridium: Clostridium are Gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria that are capable of producing spores. 'Gram-positive,' bacteria are bacteria that retain a dark blue or violet Gram staining due to excessive amounts of, 'peptidoglycan,' in their cell walls. The Clostridium genus consists of more than one-hundred known species, to include harmful pathogens such as:

  • Clostridium tetani
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Clostridium sordellii
  • Clostridium botulinum
  • Clostridium perfringens

Some species of the bacteria are used on a commercial basis to produce ethanol, acetone and to convert fatty acids to propanediol or yeasts.

Illicit Drug Use and Bacterial Spores

In the United Kingdom, microbiological testing has usually been unable to confirm the presence of the bacterial species in surrendered or seized heroin, although in 2009 C. botulinum was isolated from a sample of heroin seized in Scotland. Despite this fact, it is usually recognized that the infections presented have resulted from contaminated heroin - which may have become contaminated during processing, transport, or storage. In the United Kingdom, 90% of the heroin people used originated in Afghanistan where the opium is produced and increasingly since 2002, converted to heroin.

Heroin from Afghanistan most often travels over land, passing through a number of countries prior to entering the European Union and arriving in the United Kingdom. The conditions in which heroin is processed, transported and stored remain uncertain. Due to the fact that these activities are illegal, they all most likely make the drug vulnerable to inadvertent contamination with bacterial spores from dust or soil for example. Contaminated heroin is thought to have been the source of B. anthracis infection in an intravenous drug user in Norway in the year 2000 and in the more recent outbreak among intravenous drug users in Europe.

Another source of possible contamination is, 'drug adulterants,' or, 'cutting agents,' that are used widely to dilute and increase the bulk of illegal drugs. While most infections most likely resulted from upstream contamination of heroin, spores on the soiled hands of users and dirty needles could be inoculated during the injection process. The mode of infection remains unproven, although signs of tetanus were observed by Arthur Nicolaier in the year 1884 after he injected garden soil containing C. tetani into animals and clostridial infections after injection through dirt-covered hides.

Learn More About Spore Forming Bacteria

The Genus Bacillus

Spore Forming Bacteria

Bacterial Spores: Structure, Importance and examples of spore forming bacteria

Related Information:

  1. Substance Abuse: Drug Addiction & Help Information
  2. Substance Abuse and Persons with Disabilities - Thomas C. Weiss - (2013-07-22)
  3. Heroin: Addiction and Health Effects - Thomas C. Weiss - (2015-01-17)

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