A deadly disease that many thoughts had been wiped off the map has returned and infected a child in Australia. The two-year-old victim from northern North South Wales is now being taken care of in an intensive care unit because they developed diphtheria of the throat.
The condition has been absent from NSW for more than one hundred years, which has made it quite the cause of alarm for those vulnerable to the rare condition.
The two-year-old who contracted the disease had not been vaccinated against diphtheria. The Northern NSW Health District released a statement confirming that the infected child is battling for their life in a Queensland hospital right now.
“Diphtheria is very rare in Australia due to our longstanding childhood immunization program,” Director of North Coast Public Health Dr. Paul Douglas said. “However, the disease has very serious outcomes and can be fatal.”
The bacteria that cause diphtheria are highly contagious. It can transfer from person to person through the air by coughing and sneezing. The bacteria can also live on surfaces, so if someone infected with the disease gets particles on a surface, they put others at risk of catching it.
Doctors are currently working hard to save the child’s life in NSW. They are treating the little one with antitoxin, medication, and respiratory support. Close family members and those who are working with the child have received antibiotics and immunization to help prevent the spread of the bacterial infection.
Dr. Douglas did not want people in the surrounding community to be alarmed. However, he did urge parents to check their children’s immunization status and get their little ones a jab for diphtheria if they have not yet had it.
“The diphtheria vaccination is free and readily available from your GP for everyone from six weeks of age,” the doctor said. “It is important everyone keeps up to date with their vaccinations.”
Diphtheria has killed children for a long time and was a leading cause of death in little ones up until the 1940s. At that time, vaccination was invented that helped stop children from catching the bacteria and allowing it to fester in their system until it causes life-threatening disease.
Australia has a high rate of immunization among its population, which makes it extremely rare for a case of diphtheria to pop up like this. Instead, the condition mainly occurs in countries that do not prioritize vaccinations and have low levels of herd immunity.
Symptoms of diphtheria depend on the site of the infection, but the most severe cases involve the throat and tonsils. Children who have the condition often experience a sore throat, loss of appetite, and a mild fever. However, things begin to change within two to three days. At that time, a white-gray membrane forms over their throat, which can make it hard for the child to swallow.
For adults, the vaccination for diphtheria is included with the shot for tetanus and pertussis.