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Published On: Sat, Dec 8th, 2012

Diphtheria takes the lives of six children in Pakistan’s Punjab province

Child suffering from diphtheria Image/CDC

At least six children between the ages of thee and 12 have succumbed to the vaccine-preventable disease in Pakistan’s Pujab province in recent days, according to a report in India’s Business Standard Dec. 8.

Two deaths were reported from Lahore, while one death each were reported from Layyah, Mianwali, Chakwal and Wazirabad.

In addition to the six fatalities reported, health officials say more than a dozen others have been admitted to hospitals for treatment for diphtheria.

Health officials say the dead and ailing children had either not been immunized or were partially immunized as far as diphtheria was concerned.

The administration of diphtheria anti-toxin is critical in treating this intoxication; however, officials say they are facing an acute shortage of the antitoxin.

Diphtheria is caused by a potent toxin produced by certain strains of the bacterium, Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

Unlike tetanus, 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, cutaneus 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. Immunity does wane after a period of time and revaccination should be done at least every 10 years.

For more infectious disease news and information, follow the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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