With fresh outbreaks of the infection making the headlines, it is important travellers know everything they can about diphtheria before heading abroad.

Diphtheria has seen news coverage recently due to fresh outbreaks across Haiti, and a shortage of the vaccination to prevent the infection in Venezuela. In Haiti, this has resulted in more than seventy cases, of which almost three quarters are children under the age of ten. This had led to three fatalities so far, whilst in Venezuela five lives have been lost due to a shortage of the vaccination.

Incidents like this are tragic, and remind us how important it is to be up to date on our travel health. That’s why we’ve put together this vital and necessary guide to diphtheria, including what it is, what symptoms to look out for, and how the condition can be both treated and prevented.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial infection which, as these incidents show, is potentially fatal. It mainly affects the nose and throat, as well as sometimes affecting the skin. It’s extremely rare in England as nearly all of us have been vaccinated against it, but when travelling to areas such as Africa, South Asia and the former Soviet Union, you need to be careful and take precautions.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

The symptoms of diphtheria can be uncomfortable, shocking and potentially fatal. One of the main signs of the infection is a thick greyish-white coating at the back of the throat. As a result of this, sufferers may also experience a sore throat and breathing difficulties. They may also experience a high temperature of 38C or above.

Around one in ten people who get the diphtheria infection will die due to complications, which normally involve breathing difficulties, inflammation of the heart or problems with the nervous system. Older adults and people with a weakened immune system are more at risk of the effects of diphtheria. Children are also more susceptible to the infection and should be vaccinated against it at two months of age as part of the routine vaccination schedule.

What causes diphtheria?

As stated, diphtheria is extremely contagious. It is spread through coughs and sneezes, or through a person already affected or items belonging to them such as clothing and bedding. It’s usually caught after prolonged close contact with an existing sufferer of the infection, so people that you live with or remain close to whilst travelling could be the source of the infection.

How do you treat diphtheria?

The diphtheria infection must be treated quickly in order to prevent serious complications from occurring. Treatment is usually comprised of antibiotics and antitoxin medication, and anyone suspected of having the infection is put in isolation upon arrival at hospital. Those who develop heart or nervous system conditions will require specialist treatment.

How can you prevent diphtheria?

By far the best way to avoid and prevent diphtheria from occurring is to obtain the appropriate vaccination. For many of us, this occurs in childhood, but many places recommend reinforcing protection against the infection with a new diphtheria vaccination every ten years.

This vaccination is available from Express Travel Clinic, and is administered as part of a booster vaccine against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio. Receiving this vaccination before you travel to at-risk areas is the only way to truly give yourself peace of mind against the infection. Make sure you don’t put yourself at risk.

If you’re travelling far afield for your winter break, make sure you do it safely. Contact Express Travel Clinic today on 0208 993 5889 to book an appointment.