What you need to know about Diptheria
In this interview with Dr. Sarah Johnson, a private medical practitioner in Abuja, our reporter Mohammed Ismail delved into an incisive discussion on diphtheria, a potentially deadly infectious disease.
What is diphtheria, and how does it spread?
Dr. Johnson: Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It primarily affects the respiratory system, typically the nose and throat.
The bacterium produces a toxin that can cause severe damage to the respiratory tissues, leading to a thick, grayish membrane forming in the throat, making breathing difficult.
The disease spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread through contact with the skin lesions of infected individuals, although this is less common.
How prevalent is diphtheria, and what regions are most affected?
Dr. Johnson: Diphtheria was once a common and deadly disease, but due to widespread vaccination efforts, its incidence has significantly decreased in many parts of the world. However, it still remains a concern in some regions with low vaccination rates and limited access to healthcare.
Countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa have seen a higher number of diphtheria cases in recent years. It’s crucial to continue vaccination efforts and public health campaigns to prevent its resurgence.
You mentioned vaccination. How effective are the vaccines against diphtheria?
Dr. Johnson: Diphtheria vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing the disease. The most common and effective form of vaccination is through the combination of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines, known as the DTaP or Tdap vaccine.
In regions with high vaccination rates, the incidence of diphtheria has dramatically decreased. It’s essential for individuals to receive the recommended doses to maintain immunity and protect themselves and others from this potentially deadly disease.
Are there any specific groups at higher risk for diphtheria?
Dr. Johnson: Yes, certain populations are more vulnerable to diphtheria infection. Unvaccinated or under-vaccinated individuals are at higher risk, including children who have not received their full vaccination schedule. Also, individuals with compromised immune systems or pre-existing respiratory conditions may be more susceptible to severe diphtheria infections.
How is diphtheria diagnosed and treated?
Dr. Johnson: Diphtheria is diagnosed through a combination of clinical symptoms, such as the characteristic membrane in the throat, and laboratory testing. A swab from the back of the throat can confirm the presence of the diphtheria bacteria.
Treatment involves administering antitoxin to neutralize the toxin produced by the bacteria and antibiotics to kill the bacteria themselves. Patients are usually isolated to prevent the spread of the infection. Supportive care, including maintaining airway patency and managing complications, is also essential.
Finally, what measures can individuals and communities take to prevent diphtheria?
Dr. Johnson: The most effective way to prevent diphtheria is through vaccination. As I mentioned earlier, receiving the recommended doses of DTaP or Tdap vaccines is crucial. Additionally, staying up-to-date with booster shots throughout adulthood helps maintain immunity.
Maintaining good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, can also reduce the risk of transmission. Moreover, individuals who suspect they may have diphtheria or have been exposed to the disease should seek medical attention promptly.
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