The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant morbidity and mortality in people who inject drugs (PWID). Upper extremity soft tissue infections are frequently associated with intravenous drug use (IVDU) due to poor compliance with aseptic technique. In Canada, multiple safe injection sites providing clean injection supplies closed, leaving many PWID with no alternatives to inject safely. It was hypothesized that these closures will correspond with increased morbidity and mortality among PWID. The main objective of this study was to determine the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the incidence of upper extremity infections in PWID.
This was a retrospective chart review study. The primary outcome of interest was the frequency of upper extremity infections in PWID. Data were filtered to include only those patients presenting to the emergency department between March to June of 2019 and 2020. Chi-squared analysis was used to compare the number of IVDU patients among patients with upper extremity skin infections between these time periods.
The number of IVDU patients treated for upper extremity infections in Hamilton significantly increased during the pandemic, relative risk = 2.0 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.3-2.9, P = .0012,) while total upper extremity infections numbers have decreased overall. During the pandemic, PWID made up a larger proportion of upper extremity infections ( χ2 = 10.444, P = .00123). Demographic data such as age and sex of IVDU patients presenting with upper extremity infection was not significantly affected by the pandemic.
The effect of the pandemic on accessing harm reduction services has led to evident increases in morbidity as described by this study. Further research on the impact of closures in PWID is needed to quantify these harms and work toward mitigation strategies.