Diphtheria Breaks Out In Laos

In recent months diphtheria outbreaks have been reported in six places in Laos, in Vientiane and the provinces of Vientiane, Savannakhet, Khammuan, Huaphan and Luang Namtha. A total of 476 cases including six deaths were reported as of July 25, 2015.

Minister of Health Prof. Dr Eksavang Vongvichit said this week that enhanced surveillance in the provinces is needed to stay abreast of the new cases; it is important that the local authorities and health workers participate in active case findings, facilitate contact tracing to stop transmission of diphtheria in affected communities, support vaccination and promote the free treatment services to encourage health-seeking behaviour.

He also said that they may deploy medical professionals in the affected areas for referral of severe diphtheria cases to district and provincial hospitals for treatment. Other prevention measures introduced include immunisation for children in the three most affected provinces namely Vientiane, Khammuan, and Savannakhet.

Diphtheria affects people of all ages, in particular children who have not been vaccinated. The majority of the cases here have involved people below the age of 30. Diphtheria is treatable with both antibiotics and diphtheria antitoxin such as erythromycin and penicillin. Those who have come into close contact with a diphtheria patient should receive the prophylaxis treatment to prevent further spread.

One in 10 cases has proved fatal with a higher mortality rate seen among young children. The majority of the fatal cases involved children under the age of 15. Diphtheria resides in the upper respiratory tract transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets and close physical contact with an infected person or one who carries the bacteria but has no symptoms. Transmission is facilitated by crowding and poor socioeconomic conditions.

To stop the transmission of diphtheria in these affected provinces, health workers have to engage in active case findings to rigorously trace those who have come into contact with diphtheria patients. Health promotion and community engagement is important, to inform people living in affected areas about the on-going outbreaks and how they can protect themselves.

For locals travelling to these affected areas, if you fall sick and exhibit the usual symptoms which include a cold with a sore throat, loss of appetite and slight fever, please see a doctor and inform the health staff that you have recently travelled to an affected province.

Cross sectoral coordination in surveillance, curative care, prevention and collaboration from provincial to district and village level is needed to stop the transmission so that this does not spread further.

Source: Vientiane Times