A Lethal Disease From 100 Years Ago Was Recently Identified In Children

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After you have a baby, most likely you find yourself going to visit the pediatrician on a set schedule. During that first year, there are multiple visits to make sure the baby is thriving and to administer routine childhood vaccines. While some people choose to refuse to vaccinate their children, many people go ahead with the doctor recommended vaccination schedule.

One of the vaccines young children routinely receive is the DTap of Tdap vaccine. This one shot includes the vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. If children do not get vaccinated, there is a chance that they could end up getting one of those diseases.

Before the vaccine for diphtheria, diphtheria was a common childhood disease and is lethal about 5-10% of the time. Now, cases of diphtheria are extremely rare, but not that long ago, two children in New South Wales, Australia, were diagnosed with diphtheria of the throat. Neither one of the children were vaccinated for the disease.

One of the children who was diagnosed with diphtheria was a toddler. The second child who was diagnosed was a 6-year-old who was the close contact of the toddler. Both children were hospitalized and given antibiotics to treat the disease. This was the first time there had been a diphtheria of the throat diagnosis in New South Wales since the 1990s.

Dr Paul Douglas from Tweet Hospital talked to ABC News and explained the diagnosis and treatment of the young patients. He explained that the patients “had the classic features of what you would see with diphtheria.” These features include a grayish-green fluid on the throat and on the tonsils, sore throat and fever. 

Douglas added, “We’ve had a vaccine for 60 years. That’s what’s sad about cases like this.” He continued, “For these really basic childhood illnesses, which are vaccine preventable, we would really encourage people to get vaccinated.” He called the disease “very serious” and explained, “Diphtheria makes a toxin that is particularly dangerous to the brain, and once it’s got going it’s very difficult to manage a case of diphtheria.”

Usually, the first signs of diphtheria are a sour throat, mild fever and loss of appetite. After two or three days, the greyish membrane forms and covers the throat and tonsils which can make it difficult for the patient to breathe or even swallow. The neck may swell and there may be sores on the skin, usually on the legs, that form into ulcers.

Diphtheria is spread through coughing, sneezing and touching contaminated surfaces. Anyone who has diphtheria is contagious for four weeks. It is treated with antibiotics but is deadly in 5-10% of cases.