European health authorities are reporting an increase in diphtheria cases through September this year.
As of 26 September 2022, 92 cases of diphtheria among migrants, including a fatal one, have been reported this year by seven European countries – Austria, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, France and Switzerland. All cases are males, mainly from Asia and Africa, and most of them have been diagnosed in reception centres for migrants.
During the five-year period of 2016-2020, 69 C. diphtheriae cases were classified as imported in eleven EU/EEA countries (an average of 14 imported C. diphtheriae cases per year), and of these, 46 presented with a cutaneous disease.
The increase could be explained by an increased volume of migrants from diphtheria-endemic countries, by an increased circulation of the pathogen in the countries of origin, or by an increased risk of transmission in specific settings such as migrant reception centres.
Health officials say he risk for individuals in the broader community of contracting diphtheria is very low, provided they have completed their diphtheria vaccination schedule.
Given the estimated high diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP) immunization coverage in the EU/EEA countries, ranging from 91% to 99% for the first dose (DTP1), out of three doses for a full vaccination course, and from 85% to 99% for the third dose (DTP3), the probability of individuals residing in the community to develop the disease is very low.
Diphtheria is a disease caused by bacteria. It can assume respiratory or non-respiratory forms and may affect various parts of the body, including the skin. People infected with the diphtheria bacteria may have no symptoms, but they carry the bacteria and are able to infect others. Diphtheria is caught by coming into contact with droplets from the respiratory tract of an infected person – particularly spread by coughing or sneezing. If the disease affects the skin, it can be spread by coming into contact with the wounds or lesions of an infected person.
Successful treatment of diphtheria involves a rapid administration of diphtheria antitoxin equine (DAT) in combination with antibiotic treatment.
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