An unimmunized 6-year-old boy from Olot has contracted diphtheria and is currently admitted at an Barcelona hospital ICU. This is the first recorded case of diphtheria in Spain since 1986, according to an El Pais report (computer translated).
The last two known patients with diphtheria in Spain were treated in 1986, according to the Health Ministry.
There was no anti-toxin available in the country to treat the patient because it is such a rare condition. The Health Ministry searched for diphtheria antitoxin worldwide and it was eventually delivered from Moscow to Barcelona by the Russian ambassador.
The anti-vaccine movement has grown worldwide in recent years due to their perceived health risk. General secretary for the health service, Rubén Moreno, called these campaigns “irresponsible.” He continued: “The consequences of not vaccinating a child can be dramatic. The right to vaccination is for children, not for the parents to decide.”
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 and airway 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.