FOUR deaths from diphtheria have been confirmed by the Department of Health over the past three months.
Three cases have been reported on the South Coast, with the most recent being two adults in Gamalakhe CHC.
The department said the first person with diphtheria was hospitalised on 15 March. The tracing of possible cases started immediately and was extended to the affected schools. The vaccination of all children who missed their booster doses of Tetanus-diphtheria vaccine at six and 12 started immediately.
It has been stated that the outbreak is limited to Ugu District and eThekwini, targeting children between six and 15, who missed their booster doses. However, routine immunisation continues in schools and clinics.
The department urges parents to take their children to the clinic for immunisation, even those who missed their booster doses.
MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has allayed public fears following reports about the death of a child with diphtheria and the admission into hospital of two others suspected of being infected with the disease.
In reaction to the reports, Dhlomo said: “I don’t want us to press the panic button as if we have an outbreak of diphtheria. I’m saying this because when we followed the cases of the children who have been admitted, we found that one of them does not have a ‘road to health chart’, which means we cannot ascertain when last this child was immunised. The second child who demised at eight years of age was last immunised at 14 weeks. Now this is probably due to absent mothers.
“Diphtheria is a preventable disease, and we call upon our compatriots to make sure they adhere to the vaccination schedules we have for them.”
According to the department, diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This germ produces a toxin that can harm or destroy human body tissues and organs. One type of diphtheria affects the throat and sometimes the tonsils. Another type, more common in the tropics, causes ulcers on the skin. Diphtheria affects people of all ages, but most often it strikes children who are not immunised