Seven children have died from diphtheria in recent weeks in Lahore, Punjab province, Pakistan, according to a Dawn.com report this weekend.
The reason cited was the unavailability of diphtheria antitoxin (DAT), which was backordered for at least two months.
Officials with the Lahore-based Children’s Hospital say an order of DAT was placed in September with a Russian supplier; however, it was never received to date.
Russian is a main supplier for DAT on the international market.
Over the summer, Spain reported it’s first diphtheria case since 1986 and had to procure DAT from Moscow.
The Children’s Hospital has seen nearly three dozen diphtheria cases since October.
Diphtheria is a dangerous respiratory disease is caused by a potent toxin produced by certain strains of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diphtheria is extremely contagious through coughing or sneezing. Risk factors include crowding, poor hygiene, and lack of immunization.
Symptoms usually appear within a week of infection. This infection is characterized by a sore throat, coughing and fever very similar to many common diseases like strep throat. Additional symptoms may be bloody, watery discharge from the nose and rapid breathing. However, a presumptive diagnosis can be made by observing a characteristic thick grayish patch (membrane) found in the throat. In more severe cases, neck swelling andairway obstruction may be observed. In the tropics, cutaneous and wound diphtheria is much more common and can be a source of transmission.
The real serious danger is when the toxin that is produced by the bacterium gets into the bloodstream and spreads to organs like the heart and nervous system. Myocarditis,congestive heart failure and neurological illnesses of paralysis that mimic Guillain-Barre syndrome are most severe. Even with treatment, fatalities are still seen in up to 10% of cases.
Diphtheria can be treated and cured successfully with antitoxin and antibiotics if started early enough. The prevention of diphtheria is through vaccination.