A decade on, diphtheria raises its ugly head in Tamil Nadu again

diphtheria, The Federal, English news website
The relatively easily-preventable infection, has started to become resistant to several classes of antibiotics, and in future, it may even become immune to vaccination. Photo: iStock

Diphtheria outbreak in the tribal hamlets of Erode, Salem and Namakkal has claimed two lives while more than 15 people have been admitted to various hospitals in and around these districts, over the past week. It is nearly after a decade that the disease has broken out in the state although years of vaccination had brought down its incidence, with the past 10 years witnessing less than five cases in a year.

With diphtheria being a contagious bacterial disease, it is being speculated that it may have spread from neighbouring Kerala which also had an outbreak of the disease.

A senior official in the health department said a committee has been formed to inspect the villages where the diphtheria outbreak took place. “It is a contagious disease. So, we did not know the source of disease transmission. The only thing common among them is that most of the children are from the same school in the village,” the official said.

While the total number of affected persons has not been ascertained yet, sources said, as many as 12 are currently undergoing treatment at Coimbatore Medical College Hospital alone. “Around 15 children who were brought to the hospital since last week were from Kadambur, a tribal village in Erode. While three of them were discharged later, two were referred to government hospitals in Chennai,” said a doctor from Coimbatore Medical College Hospital.

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Another doctor who has been treating affected children at the Coimbatore hospital said the hospital was facing an acute shortage of medicine to treat the patients. “As we did not have enough medicines to treat the children, we had sought the help of hospitals in the neighbouring districts of Kerala. But we were informed that those hospitals too had diphtheria patients and didn’t have enough medicines to spare. We finally managed to get some medicines from Puducherry. But we don’t know how long the medicines would last,” the doctor said.

However, director of public health and preventive medicine K Kulanthai Samy denied of any shortage of medicines in government hospitals.

“The outbreak has mostly happened in the tribal hamlets and we are monitoring it closely. We have advised residents in these areas to get their children examined at nearby hospitals immediately, if they have slightest symptoms such as throat pain or low fever,” Samy said.

Samy claims that as many as 50,000 children were vaccinated soon after the outbreak of the disease.

“We have also advised the residents to vaccinate their children on a regular basis. We can only reduce the incidence of the disease, but cannot eradicate it completely until the neighbouring states also take such an initiative,” he said.

Since 2018, Tetanus Diphtheria is being given to children in the the age of five, 10 and 15.  “Many children may not have been vaccinated after attaining the age of 10. This could be one reason for the outbreak and we are looking at other reasons,” the official added.

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