The North Coast Public Health Unit in northern New South Wales (NSW) has reported two cases of the vaccine-preventable disease, diphtheria in two children.
The first case is in a two year old unvaccinated child who is currently being cared for in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a Queensland hospital and has received diphtheria antitoxin, antibiotics and respiratory support.
The second case is in a six year old child who is a close family contact of the first case. The child, who was not vaccinated against diphtheria, is currently being cared for at a Northern NSW Local Health District hospital.
These are the first cases of diphtheria of the throat in NSW since the 1990s.
The children’s close contacts have received post exposure prophylaxis, which can include antibiotics and immunization, to reduce the risk of transmission.
Dr Paul Douglas, Director North Coast Public Health, said the risk to the broader community is low.
“However, this is a very serious disease and can be fatal, so families should be alert and review the immunization status of their children on the Australian Immunization Register or with their medical provider, to ensure they are update with all vaccinations,” Dr Douglas said.
“Diphtheria is very rare in Australia due to our longstanding childhood immunization program.
“The diphtheria vaccination is free and readily available from your GP for everyone from six weeks of age. It is important that everyone keeps up to date with their vaccinations.”
Diphtheria is a contagious, vaccine-preventable disease that is spread mainly through respiratory droplets during close contact with a person who has the bacteria.
While no other cases of throat diphtheria have been reported in NSW since the 1990s, on rare occasions other less serious cases of diphtheria have been reported, mainly involving the skin.
According to NSW Health, prevention of diphtheria is through vaccination:
- Vaccination against diphtheria are part of the childhood immunizations and is given in combination with other vaccines known as ‘DTP’ vaccine, which contains vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).
- The DTP vaccine should be given at 2,4, 6 and 18 months of age, followed by booster doses at 4 years and at 15 years of age.
- A high vaccination rate in the community is important to protect everyone from the disease. In 2021, over 90% of Australian children under 6 years of age were fully immunized against diphtheria (Australian Childhood Immunization Register (ACIR) statistics).