The Venezuelan Society of Public Health and the National Epidemiological Defence Network issued their sixth alert concerning diphtheria this week and now reports the disease is present in six Venezuelan states–Monagas, Sucre, Anzoátegui, Apure, Bolívar, and Miranda, including the capital city of Caracas, according to a Efecto Cocuyo report (computer translated).


The report notes that the number of cases reported in September was 86; however, it has grown to somewhere between 200 and 300. The number must be taken with caution because it’s not known exactly how many confirmed cases and deaths there truly are due to the epidemiological silence in the country.

LISTEN: Podcast: The Crisis in Venezuela

The Venezuelan Society of Public Health says diphtheria was eradicated in Venezuela in the late 1940s.

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.