The four-day long tribal Easter dance party located inland from Byron Bay NSW, Australia, Rabbits Eat Lettuce announced that a female attendee contracted the serious, vaccine preventable disease, diphtheria.

Rabbits Eat Lettuce Image/Facebook page
Rabbits Eat Lettuce
Image/Facebook page

According to a post to attendees by the event last week:

IMPORTANT: One of our guests has contracted Diphtheria whilst attending the event. The doctors have said it is likely she caught the bacterial disease while in the company of an international tourist or someone who has recently returned from overseas. It is extremely uncommon in Australia. The only way to contract the bacterial disease is to come in direct contact with an infected person so it is unlikely to have spread during the event.

However, better to be safe than sorry. If you have any of the following symptoms we recommend you attend a Doctor immediately;

# A thick, grey membrane covering your throat and tonsils.
# A sore throat and hoarseness.
# Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in your neck.
# Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.
# Nasal discharge.
# Fever and chills.

Local media reports that diphtheria is quite rare in Australia, with the last case being in 2011 when a unvaccinated Queensland woman died of the disease. Prior to that there were a handful of cases in the Northern Territory in the early nineties.

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.