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Saturday June 22, 2024

Diphtheria outbreak in Pakistan

By M. Waqar Bhatti
January 12, 2023
A Pakistani paramedic examines a child at a medical camp in Jamshoro district of Sindh province. - AFP
A Pakistani paramedic examines a child at a medical camp in Jamshoro district of Sindh province. - AFP

ISLAMABAD: Following the deaths of dozens of children throughout the country due to diphtheria, the National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad has ‘advised’ the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) to ensure the availability of Diphtheria Antitoxin in the country, which is used to treat infected patients along with antibiotics.

Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease caused by strains of a bacterium called ‘Corynebacterium diphtheria’ that make toxins. It can lead to breathing, heart rhythm problems, and even death. Pakistani children are given a vaccine, a combination of five vaccines that protects from five major diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b (DTP-hepB-Hib).

Over 45 children and teenagers lost their lives due to diphtheria across Pakistan in 2022 while hundreds of suspected cases have been reported from Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, officials say the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) said and blamed the poor quality of vaccination for the resurgence of diphtheria, which has been wiped out from most parts of the world.

According to an NIH Advisory titled “Advisory for Prevention and Treatment of Corynebacterium diphtheria”, the infectious disease diphtheria is a potentially life-threatening bacterial disease caused by infection with toxin-producing strains of Corynebacterium diphtheria. “In Pakistan, sporadic cases of diphtheria continue to be reported and are usually prevalent from November to February. In 2022, there were 26 laboratory-confirmed cases.

It further says that any person with upper respiratory tract illness characterized by laryngitis or pharyngitis or tonsillitis and a visible adherent ‘membrane” on the tonsils, pharynx and/or nose could be infected with Corynebacterium diphtheria.

Diphtheria is transmitted from person to person, with skin lesions usually through respiratory droplets (coughing or sneezing), the advisory said adding that infection may also come by contact/touching open sores (skin lesions) and material objects (toys or clothes) used by the person already contracted diphtheria.