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Diphtheria in South Africa

30 Apr 2015

A small outbreak of diphtheria has been laboratory-confirmed in the Durban area of South Africa. Three cases have been identified; all children, aged 8 and 9-years who were seriously ill and required specialised care in hospital. The first case developed systemic complications and sadly died. The second and third cases (one of whom also developed systemic complications) are recovering from the illness.

The children had all completed the primary course of diphtheria immunisations appropriately, however, not all booster doses had been adminstered.

In response to the outbreak, the Department of Health put in place the following interventions: contact tracing and administration of post-exposure prophylaxis; vaccination campaigns in the community and schools where the cases resided; an awareness and health promotion campaign in the communities; awareness of the outbreak cascaded to healthcare professionals.

Advice for Travellers

Diphtheria vaccination is sometimes recommended for travellers to South Africa who are at higher risk of infection.

Travellers should ensure that they are up-to-date with the UK national vaccine schedule.