Diphtheria: What to know and how to stay safe

Diphtheria: What to know and how to stay safe
Diphtheria: What to know and how to stay safe

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Friday, January 20th confirmed the outbreak of diphtheria disease in Lagos and Kano states.

While, the agency is responding to the situation, the disease has reportedly left about 25 persons dead in the North-Western state.

To reduce the risk of contracting the disease, the NCDC advised Nigerians to ensure their children are fully vaccinated with three (3) doses of the pentavalent vaccine as recommended in the childhood immunisation schedule.

Here are some critical things to know.

Diphtheria explained

Diphtheria is a serious infection, sometimes deadly bacterial infection that forms in the moist inner lining of your nose and throat, and occasionally on the skin.

According to the NCDC, diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium species which affects the throat, nose, and sometimes, skin.

The disease is caused by strains of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that make toxin. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart rhythm problems, swallowing problems, and in some cases sores on the skin and even death.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC recommends vaccines for infants, children, teens, and adults to prevent the disease.

It’s highly contagious. It spreads easily from person to person, either through the air in small droplets or on surfaces.

Diphtheria is rare in developed countries like the United States. That’s because high vaccination rates have almost gotten rid of the disease, diphtheria is still a common problem in many countries around the world.

Lately, Diphtheria has been discovered in Lagos, with about 25 persons dead in the North-Western state as well.

Causes of Diphtheria

A type of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae causes it. This bacteria is unique because it makes a toxin that kills your cells. That makes diphtheria deadlier than some other types of bacterial infections.

The bacteria usually spreads through droplets that fly out of your nose or mouth when you sneeze or cough.

Some people also catch the disease by touching an infected person’s used hand towels, tissues, or any of their other things around the house that might hold the bacteria.

You could get diphtheria by touching an infected person’s open sore or ulcer, too.

People with diphtheria are highly contagious until 48 hours after they start getting antibiotic treatment.

It’s also possible to get the bacteria from someone who’s infected but doesn’t have any symptoms.

Doctors call this person a “carrier.” Carriers can spread the infection to others for up to 4 weeks.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

When the bacteria grows in the moist inner lining of your nose and throat, it begins to make large amounts of a toxin.

This toxin kills your cells and creates a thick gray coating – called a pseudomembrane – from dead cells, bacteria, waste products, and proteins.

This thick substance can coat your nasal tissues, tonsils, voice box, and the rest of your throat. It’s the most distinct symptom of the disease, and it can make it hard for you to breathe and swallow.

From your throat, the toxin can get into your bloodstream and cause lots of damage to other tissues and organs throughout your body.

Possible symptoms from diphtheria include:

A sore throat
Swollen glands in your neck
Trouble breathing
Slurred speech
Fevers and chills
Tiredness
Nasal discharge
A second type of diphtheria can also grow on your skin.

This type of infection leads to painful, red, and swollen skin. You could also get ulcers with a thick gray coating.

But this kind of infection doesn’t usually affect other organs in the body.

Maintaining high index of suspicion

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC has warned people, particularly the healthcare workers to maintain a high index of suspicion for diphtheria.

The Centre issued the warning in an advisory statement on Friday.

It stated, “Healthcare workers should maintain a high index of suspicion for diphtheria i.e., be vigilant and look out for symptoms of the disease.

“Individuals with signs and symptoms suggestive of diphtheria should isolate themselves and notify the local government area (LGA), state disease surveillance officer (DSNO), or the NCDC through our toll-free line (6232),” it added.

The advisory further stated, “Close contacts with a confirmed case of the disease should be closely monitored given antibiotics prophylaxis and started on diphtheria antitoxin treatment when indicated.

“All healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists, support staff, etc.) with higher exposure to cases of diphtheria should be vaccinated against diphtheria,” it added.

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