Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial infection that mainly affects the nose and throat. The bacteria “Corynebacterium diphtheria” releases toxins into the blood that can lead to potentially life-threatening complications of the heart, kidneys and central nervous system.
Diphtheria is highly contagious and is easily passed on through sneezing, coughing or even laughing. It can also be spread by coming into contact with items that have been used by the infected person such as, a mug, or a handkerchief. People who have been infected by diphtheria bacteria can infect others for up to four weeks, even if they don’t have any symptoms.
Symptoms include a sore throat, fever and swollen lymph glands in the neck. In many cases, a grey membrane grows across the throat creating breathing difficulties. Another form of Diptheria known as, “Cutaneous diphtheria” affects the skin, causing sores to develop on the body. Diphtheria can lead to respiratory complications, heart failure, paralysis and, in severe cases, death.
Diptheria occurs in resource-poor countries, where routine immunisation may not achieve high coverage. It remains a problem and can represent a serious health risk to the unvaccinated traveller. Diphtheria is reported in high numbers from south Asia (in particular India, Nepal, and Bangladesh), South East Asia, the western Pacific (Indonesia, Philippines, Viet Nam, Laos, and Papua New Guinea), sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria), South America (Brazil), and the middle east (Iraq and Afghanistan).
Travellers should be advised to avoid close contact with cattle/other farm animals and the consumption of raw dairy products in order to minimise their risk of C. ulcerans.
The Diptheria Vaccination is the best form of prevention. If you plan to travel abroad, many places recommend reinforcing protection with a new diphtheria vaccination every 10 years. This vaccination is regularly administered as part of a booster vaccine for Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio.