Cotton fever is a term used to describe a medical condition affecting IV drug users, particularly meth and heroin abusers. It is believed to be caused by a bacteria found in common plants called Pantoea agglomerans.
How Does Someone Get Cotton Fever?
The presence of the aforementioned bacteria entering the bloodstream induces flu-like symptoms. Many IV drug users use cotton balls or Q-tips to filter their drugs, and the bacteria found in this non-sterile cotton increase the risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream. Sepsis (the body’s extreme reaction to infection) can also occur at this time as it instigates an immune response to fight off the harmful intruders and is potentially fatal.
If a person does reuse a needle, it can be sterilized by heating it to destroy bacteria. However, doing this does not ensure infection won’t occur. Using cotton places individuals at risk of infection, even if the needle is clean.
Also, attempts by intravenous drug users to sterilize cotton can make the fibers toxic, producing additional risks that can be life-threatening. In some instances, sterilizing cotton for drug use can result in severe infections.
Finally, some users report trying to extract the drug from used cotton balls when they can’t find it any other way—a practice referred to as “shooting the cottons.” These cotton balls could be infested with bacteria or other pathogens.
Symptoms of Cotton Fever
Symptoms of cotton fever onset between a few minutes up to 12 hours after an injection and may include the following:
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches and pain
- Abdominal pain
Drug users who have contracted cotton fever often describe it as being even worse than withdrawal. Symptoms such as muscle spasms and bone aches and pains are usually followed by severe cold and flu symptoms, migraines, and shaking. Nausea and vomiting are also common for IV drug users who develop cotton fever.
Can a Person Die From Cotton Fever?
In some cases, cotton fever can be fatal. This is especially true for persons who do not receive appropriate medical intervention in response to life-threatening illnesses. All persons who administer drugs intravenously put themselves in danger. However, using an unsterile needle or cotton to filter the drug into the process increases this risk.
Cotton fever can, at times, be challenging to diagnose. The flu-like symptoms are similar to a variety of other conditions. Persons suspected of having cotton fever might be assessed for other infectious diseases or infections before the symptoms are treated.
Relieving Cotton Fever
Fortunately, treatment for cotton fever is available. In most instances, the problem eases on its own. However, treatment can help lessen symptoms as well as the risks associated with the condition.
It’s also essential to make sure that other infections aren’t producing similar symptoms. The rapid manifestation of symptoms after injection typically indicates cotton fever instead of different types of infections. The sooner medical attention is sought after symptoms onset, the better the prognosis will be.
An infection of the bloodstream spreads through and affects your entire body. Medical intervention can mitigate some cotton fever symptoms, but pain is still likely. The patient won’t feel much better until they are rid of the infection.
Typical treatment for cotton fever focuses on reducing an individual’s fever. High fevers typically resolve within a few hours or a day. However, this process can be expedited by soaking in a bath and using fever-relieving medications. Antibiotics are used in extreme or long-term cases of cotton fever.
Treatment Options for IV Drug Use
Cotton fever is considered a relatively benign syndrome, compared to many other medical risks associated with IV drug use. It does not usually become severe or life-threatening, but it can. Severe cases may last 24-48 hours, but its potential to resolve on its own does not mean that treatment should be sought.
It goes without saying that the best way to avoid cotton fever is to stop injecting drugs and getting clean. Understandably, however, many people fear this process due to the possibility of severe withdrawal symptoms occurring. However, this issue can be relieved using medical detox and long-term professional residential treatment.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer many different treatment options designed to address addiction, mental health conditions, and other co-occurring disorders that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Medical detox
- Residential (inpatient) programs
- Partial hospitalization
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Peer support groups
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention and support
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni activities