Nearly one year ago, health officials in the Laxmangarh area of Alwar district reported on a diphtheria outbreak that took the lives of six children. Today, it’s deja vu in the area as at least 10 suspected cases of diphtheria have been found in the area.
The Times of India reports that although the cases have yet to be confirmed, all are showing the symptoms of diphtheria–pain in neck, swelling and fever.
Diphtheria 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, waterydischarge 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 withtreatment, 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. Immunity does wane after a period of time and revaccination should be done at least every 10 years.
Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today