South Africa: Health Minister Phaahla Calls for Vigilance After Two Cases of Contagious Diphtheria Confirmed in SA

This photomicrograph depicted a number of Gram-positive Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria, which had been stained using the methylene blue technique.

The Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, has called for vigilance after two cases of an uncommon but highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, diphtheria, were confirmed in South Africa in April.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It can be treated with antibiotics and antitoxin. Two cases of diphtheria, one in the Western Cape and one in Gauteng, have been confirmed in South Africa since April.

There is currently a large outbreak of the disease in Nigeria.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said there was a global shortage of the diphtheria antitoxin.

"The World Health Organization is working to secure additional supplies of antitoxin. Treatment in the absence of antitoxin is appropriate antibiotics and supportive care," he added.

Diphtheria is caused by infection from a toxin-producing strain of Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is one of the childhood diseases included in the Department of Health's vaccination programme for children. Adults are also at risk of contracting the disease as immunity can wane over time.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), diphtheria is uncommon in South Africa. Between January 2008 and March 2015, only three laboratory-confirmed cases of respiratory diphtheria were reported, and one case in 2016.

What are the symptoms?

According to the NICD's fact sheet on the disease, symptoms of respiratory diphtheria usually start two to five days...

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