Surveillance system monitoring for diphtheria after PAHO regional alert
WILLEMSTAD – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in a recent epidemiological alert to public health agencies in the Americas, gave an update with respect to diphtheria in the Americas.
Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Vaccines are recommended for infants, children, teens and adults to prevent diphtheria.
In 2017, four countries in the Region of the Americas – Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela – reported confirmed diphtheria cases. In 2018, the same four countries and now Colombia, have reported suspected and confirmed cases.
The Health Department has taken note of the PAHO alert which calls for continued efforts to maintain high vaccination coverage with the full three-dose primary series and booster doses throughout the countries and territories of the Americas.
PAHO/World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that the populations at greatest risk are unvaccinated children under 5 years of age, schoolchildren, healthcare workers, military service personnel, prisoner community, and persons who, due to the nature of their occupation, are in contact with a large number of persons on a daily basis.
PAHO advice for travelers, “Although travelers do not have a special risk of diphtheria infection, it is recommended that national authorities remind travelers going to areas with diphtheria outbreaks to be properly vaccinated in accordance with the national vaccination scheme established in each country prior to travel. If more than five years have passed since their last dose, a booster dose is recommended.”
PAHO/WHO recommends Member States strengthen their surveillance system for the early detection of suspected cases in order to initiate the timely treatment of cases and follow-up of contacts, and ensuring the supply of diphtheria antitoxin. Vaccination is key to prevent cases and outbreaks, and adequate clinical management reduces complications and mortality.
Now Diphtheria has been added to the list to be monitored and to report to the respective public health authorities; to secure timely intervention to mitigate possible increase of cases, to control, prevent the spread and to register relevant data.
Immunization averts an estimated two-three million deaths every year, protecting children from diphtheria, measles, pertussis (better known as whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhea, rubella, tetanus and others.