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Appeal for calm as diphtheria cases emerge



a severe outbreak of diphtheria

There has been news of a severe outbreak of diphtheria in South Africa, which has raised concerns among health officials. According to SA News, The Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, urges the public to be cautious and vigilant in response to the two confirmed cases reported in April 2023. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) identified the cases and alerted the health department.

One adult in KwaZulu-Natal and one child in the Western Cape were affected. Diphtheria is a severe infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, leading to respiratory difficulties, irregular heart rhythms, and even death.

Individuals primarily transmit diphtheria through respiratory droplets. Common symptoms include:

  • A sore throat.
  • The formation of a greyish membrane on the tonsils and throat.
  • Swelling of the glands in the neck.

Those in close contact with confirmed cases are at an increased risk of contracting the disease.

Also read: Family is seeking help with a rare disease case

Vaccination is critical in preventing diphtheria. Children should receive the recommended vaccine during the first year of their life, followed by booster doses at six and twelve. Then, if children have missed doses, they can catch up on vaccinations.


It is important to note that there is a global shortage of diphtheria antitoxin. The World Health Organization is working to secure additional supplies. Without the antitoxin, treatment primarily involves the appropriate use of antibiotics and supportive care.

The recent cases of diphtheria highlight the importance of maintaining high vaccination coverage. Parents should prioritise their children’s routine vaccinations and ensure they are up to date. Then, children can visit the nearest clinic to catch up on immunisations.

Healthcare providers, including primary healthcare nurses, should maintain a heightened level of suspicion for potential diphtheria cases. Timely reporting of suspected cases and submission of relevant specimens for laboratory testing is critical in effectively managing the outbreak. Laboratories should thoroughly screen throat swabs for diphtheria and refer any confirmed cases to the NICD’s Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis for further evaluation and appropriate interventions.

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Picture:  Unsplash / Kate

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