A 15 year old boy from Kerala’s Malappuram district in southern India has died from diphtheria, according to multiple local media reports. All account say the teen was unvaccinated against diphtheria.

Indian subcontinent/CIA
Indian subcontinent/CIA

He developed fever on June 2 and was admitted to the Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode, on June 6. His condition worsened even though he was administered the anti-diphtheria serum and other drugs. The boy died at the MCH on Saturday following multi-organ failure, according to a report in The Hindu.

Two other children were found to show clinical symptoms of the disease, are being treated and doing well.

Malappuram district is a Muslim community  known to be reluctant to immunization, reports note.

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.