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What is Cotton Fever?

Cotton fever is a risk that IV drug users face. Although it is painful, it is not terribly dangerous. There are worse things to worry about when you use IV drugs.

The White House Drug Policy’s Street Drug Glossary, defines cotton fever as, “Critically high fever temperature associated with accidentally injecting cotton fibers into the blood stream.” Other proposed causes include “dirt in Mexican heroin” and fiberglass in cigarette filters. The connection between almost all the explanations is that cotton fever is caused by some kind of particles that are injected into the blood stream.

There are a lot of different unintended things that happen to IV drugs users: hitting arteries and nerves, abscesses, blood clots. Cotton fever has specific symptoms that differentiate it from other ailments: fever, chills, and shortness of breath. In Europe, cotton fever is commonly called “the shakes.” A reference to one of the common symptoms of cotton fever. Those with this ailment often experience violent shaking or shivering. These symptoms normally occur immediately following an injection, but it make take as long as an hour before the symptoms begin.

Usually cotton fever is relatively harmless. But it is possible for it to turn into something more serious such as pneumonia; the user should seek medical attention if the fever does not go away within a few hours. If the fever persists, it should be treated with antibiotics.

Cotton plants are invested with a strain of bacteria known as E. Agglomerans. They cause problems in the pulmonary system of the body which results in the symptoms of cotton fever. This was first noted in the early 1940s with farm workers who breathed in large quantities of unprocessed cotton.

Most IV drug users use small pieces of cotton to filter dirt and filler particles from their drug solution before they inject. It is possible for this to introduce small amounts of E. Agglomerans into the liquid. When it is administered intravenously, this small quantity of bacteria can be enough to cause cotton fever.

It is impossible to completely avoid cotton fever except by not using cotton to filter drug solutions. This should not be used as an excuse to avoid filtering your solution–or for using a poor substitute. In most cases, cotton is the best thing to use for this purpose. Cotton fever is a fairly minor ailment, whereas the particulate matter filtered by the cotton can be deadly.

To minimize the risk of cotton fever, boil the cotton before it is used for filtration. This should kill the bacteria that cause this ailment. But this is no guarantee. Bacteria can be hard to kill. In addition to boiling your cotton, make sure that you do not re-use your cotton. There are many reasons to avoid this practice, and only one is to avoid cotton fever. Old cottons break down, making it more likely that a fiber will be drawn into your syringe.

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