Call for calm amid diphtheria cases

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has called for vigilance and for the public not to panic as the country records two positive cases of diphtheria disease.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), has alerted the department of two laboratory-confirmed cases of diphtheria disease that were detected in April 2023.

According to the department, the first case was detected in an adult in KwaZulu-Natal, while the second infection was found in a child in the Western Cape.

Diphtheria is an uncommon, but vaccine-preventable serious infection caused by a toxin-producing bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheria.

“The toxin may lead to difficulty in breathing, heart rhythm problems, and even death,” the department explained.

The bacteria, according to the department, spreads from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing.

The symptoms of diphtheria include sore throat, with the formation of a membrane on the tonsil and throat, and swollen glands in the front of the neck.

Close contacts of known cases are at increased risk of infection.

“Routine diphtheria vaccination is part of the childhood vaccine programme and parents are encouraged to get their children vaccinated,” the statement read.

The vaccine should be given to all children as part of the routine vaccines in the first year of life, while booster doses at six and 12 years should also be given.

“Catch-up vaccination is possible if doses have been missed.”

However, the department said diphtheria antitoxin is in short supply globally and the World Health Organisation is working to secure additional supplies of antitoxin.

“Treatment in the absence of anti-toxin is appropriate antibiotics and supportive care.”

These cases, the department said, are a reminder that a drop in vaccine coverage may lead to more infections.

“All parents are urged to ensure that their children are up to date for routine vaccines. Children who are not up to date for vaccines should be taken to the nearest clinic for vaccination.”

Meanwhile, clinicians including primary health care nurses throughout the country have been urged to have a high index of suspicion for diphtheria, to notify suspected cases and to send specimens to the laboratory for testing.

In addition, laboratories are encouraged to screen all throat swabs for diphtheria and send all confirmed cases to the NICD’s Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis. –

Source: South African Government News Agency