Diphtheria has again woken up in India. The latest case was reported in the South Indian state of Kerala where two minors died, making the total infected cases of the year to 5. According to the United Nations estimates, India is leading in statistics in the number of cases affected by diphtheria from 1980 to 2014. Dr.T.V.Ravi, Chief Pediatrician and Director of Ernakulam Medical centre gives a comprehensive picture of the disease and its treatment.
While the cases of infected are reported to be on the point of increase, many are unaware about the seriousness of this illness. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that affects the membranes of the throat and nose. Though it spreads easily, diphtheria can be prevented through the use of vaccines. If left untreated, diphtheria can cause severe damage to one’s kidneys, nervous system, and heart.
Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This bacterium produces a toxin that can harm or destroy human body tissues and organs. One type of diphtheria affects the throat and sometimes the tonsils. Another type, more common in the tropics, causes ulcers on the skin.
Diphtheria does not show age barriers; it affects people of all ages. Most often, it strikes unimmunised children. In temperate climates, diphtheria tends to occur during the colder months. That is, it tends to occur during the months of September, October and November. In all, 30,000 cases and 3,000 deaths of diphtheria were reported worldwide in 2000.
Spread of disease
Diphtheria is transmitted from person to person through close physical and respiratory contact. It can cause infection of the nasopharynx, which may lead to breathing difficulties and death. The bacteria spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and droplets of his/her saliva enter another person’s mouth or nose. The bacteria can be transferred by an infected person onto household items such as cups, towels or cutlery.
Diphtheria is usually caught after being in close or prolonged contact with someone who has the condition or is carrying the infection. For example, you may catch diphtheria from someone you live with.
In countries where standards of hygiene are poor, diphtheria can often affect the skin (cutaneous diphtheria). In these cases, the bacterial infection is spread through contact with the infected wound rather than by breathing in infected droplets.
(Read the full article from the November Issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2015)