What is Cotton Fever?
“Cotton Fever” is a term that is pretty common among IV drug users, but it is still largely unknown to lay people and medical professionals. Most IV drug users who have been using for any significant period of time have had the experience of injecting drugs and almost immediately experiencing septic-like symptoms including fever, chills, vomiting, shaking, and muscle cramps. They may not realize it at the time, but they have what is known in the drug community as cotton fever.
What Causes Cotton Fever?
IV drug users use cotton and other materials to filter solid matter from the drugs they are injecting. This step is important because injecting solid matter can cause major damage to the circulatory system or even death. Cotton fever is caused by either a bacteria in the cotton or the cotton (or other filter materials) itself being injected into the blood stream. It is more common when IV drug users re-use cotton pieces. Sometimes, an IV drug user will try to get the last little bits of a drug from old cotton and they will end up injecting a bacteria straight into the blood stream.
What Are the Symptoms of Cotton Fever?
If you have cotton fever, you will know pretty quickly after you inject yourself. As quickly as 10 minutes after injection, you will feel fever, headaches, malaise, chills, nausea, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat. Most people will vomit and have muscle spasms. Cotton fever is usually self-limiting, and lasts between twelve and twenty-four hours. It is painful, but not particularly dangerous. However, it can turn into something more serious, like pneumonia, so if your fever lasts longer than 24 hours, you should seek medical attention. If you do seek medical attention, it’s best to be honest about what has caused your symptoms. Often, the symptoms of cotton fever are misdiagnosed as sepsis in the Emergency Room.
What Should You Do If You Get Cotton Fever?
You can always seek medical attention for cotton fever, and if your symptoms persist, you should. However, if you don’t go to the doctor, the only thing you can do is wait it out. Some IV drug users recommend injecting a shot of pure water if you start to feel the symptoms of cotton fever. However, there is no evidence that this shortens the length or severity of cotton fever symptoms. According to Wikipedia, cotton fever usually resolve itself within a few hours to a day. Extreme cases (particularly severe or long-lasting) can be treated with antibiotics.
How Do You Avoid Cotton Fever?
It is impossible to completely avoid cotton fever unless you stop using cotton to filter drugs before you inject them. Unfortunately, cotton is a good, and relatively cheap filter, especially when compared to, say, cigarette filters. Under no circumstances should you not filter your drugs, as injecting solid matter is far more dangerous than cotton fever, even deadly.
However, you can reduce your risk by boiling your cotton before using it. Also, do not re-use old cotton. Old cotton can contain bacteria. It is also more likely to break down, making it more likely that the cotton fiber will get into the syringe. You can also reduce your risk of developing cotton fever by keeping your cotton in a clean, air-tight container.