5 Things You Need To Know About Diphtheria And How It Spreads

It can spread even when you do not show symptoms.

Vaccination has become a topic of heated debate in Malaysia, especially after several recent cases of diphtheria

The debate has been centred around whether vaccines in Malaysia are considered halal or not.

Recent reports revealed that several parents did not vaccinate their children because of religious reasons.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Fred Tanneau/AFP

Last Thursday, 21 February, a two-year-old boy in Johor Bahru, who was never vaccinated since birth, was suspected to have passed away from severe diphtheria.

Yesterday, 24 February, another five children tested positive for having the bacterial infection, including the deceased boy's sister, New Straits Times reported.

Since 2018, nineteen diphtheria cases have been reported to date, including six deaths. Out of the six deaths, five of the victims did not receive immunisation.

Here are five facts you need to know about the infection and how it spreads:

1. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection, which often starts with a sore throat

The name of the bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, forms a whitish or greyish layer in the throat and tonsils.

It can cause kidney damage, heart damage, and nerve damage, eventually ending in death.

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Image from New Straits Times

Image via New Straits Times

2. Individuals who do not have up-to-date immunisations have a higher risk of getting infected

Lack of vaccination in children under five years old may cause the infection. It is especially dangerous for those below 15 years old.

People living in crowded or unsanitary conditions or anyone who travels to an area where diphtheria is endemic are also susceptible.

3. The infection can spread through saliva, sweat, and droplets breathed out into the air

According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing, and talking can spread diphtheria.

Touching contaminated items like an infected person's used tissues or toys and other household items, can also spread the infection.

4. Some of its symptoms include: sore throat, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, fever, and swollen glands

In some cases, those who are infected may not even show symptoms.

5. Getting vaccinated can lower the risk of getting diphtheria

You can prevent it by making sure your immunisations are up-to-date. Children are especially urged to receive their recommended vaccinations to maintain immunity, said Director-General of Health Malaysia Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

However, in advanced stages, diphtheria can be deadly even with medical treatment.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via AFP/NST

Following the debate on whether vaccines are halal, the Ministry of Health is considering making vaccinations compulsory:

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