PRO/EDR> Diphtheria – South Africa: (NL, WC) antitoxin shortage


A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Thu 18 May 2023 18:11 SAST
Source: The South African [edited]

South Africa has recorded 2 positive cases of diphtheria disease. The
Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, called for vigilance and urged the
public not to panic. The Department of Health described diphtheria as
an uncommon serious infection. However, it is vaccine preventable. The
infection is caused by a toxin-producing bacterium (Corynebacterium
), which may lead to difficulty breathing, heart rhythm
issues and even death.

“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,” said the Department [of Health].

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) notified the
Department [of Health] of the 2 lab-confirmed cases detected in April
2023. The 1st case was an adult in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and the 2nd
case was a child in the Western Cape.

The bacteria that cause the infection spreads from person to person
through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing in most cases.
As mentioned, the close contacts of those infected are most at risk.

Diphtheria vaccination is part of the childhood vaccine programme in
South Africa, and parents are encouraged to have their children
vaccinated. “The vaccine should be given to all children as part of
the routine vaccines in the 1st year of life. Booster doses at the age
of 6 and 12 years should also be given. Catch-up vaccination is
possible if doses have been missed,” said the Department [of Health].

Diphtheria antitoxin is in short supply globally, and the World Health
Organization (WHO) is working towards securing additional supply. The
infection is treated with the appropriate antibiotics and supportive
care in the absence of the antitoxin.

South African clinicians have been urged to be on the lookout for
diphtheria and notify suspected cases. Specimens must also be sent for
laboratory testing.

[Byline: Storm Simpson]

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