It’s been called Australia’s anti-wax capital and is now the latest weird thing to hit northern New South Wales.
In the early 1900s, diphtheria caused more deaths in Australia than any other infectious disease.
Since then, the introduction of the diphtheria vaccine has nearly wiped out the disease, but it recently resurfaced in two children in New South Wales.
A two-year-old became the first case of throat diphtheria in New South Wales in a century earlier this month.
The baby has been released from intensive care but remains stable in the hospital, a spokeswoman for the North Shore Public Health Unit (NCPHU) said on Monday.
Another child, aged 6, described as a close relative, was also diagnosed with throat diphtheria in northern New South Wales. This child was hospitalized as a precautionary measure and was discharged last week.
Both children were not vaccinated against the disease. Their close contacts received post-exposure prophylaxis, which may include antibiotics and immunizations, to reduce the risk of spread.
On Monday, the NCPHU confirmed that no new cases have been identified since then.
Diphtheria is a preventable disease and cases are rare in Australia these days as the vaccination rate for Australian children is high at around 95 percent.
But while vaccination prevents the disease, it doesn’t completely prevent people carrying the bacteria in the back of their throats without symptoms, according to Healthdirect Australia chief medical officer Nirvana Lukkrai.
Fully vaccinated people can pass the bacteria on to unvaccinated contacts, including when they return from abroad, she said.
“Diphtheria was a major problem in Australia in the early 1900s, but thanks to the introduction of vaccines at the national level, it has all but disappeared,” Dr. Lukkrai said.
“Until two recent cases in New South Wales, there had been no cases of respiratory diphtheria in children in Australia since 1992.”
The disease is spread when a person inhales droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze or, less commonly, from infected skin lesions.
Dr Loukkrai said it was unlikely that many more cases of diphtheria would come up, given that it is part of the national immunization program.
In Australia, children are vaccinated at six weeks, four months, six months, 18 months, four years and at the start of secondary school.
But if they missed or delayed any of their diphtheria vaccine doses, which are usually given as part of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, then they may be at risk of infection.
In adults, the diphtheria vaccine is included in the tetanus and whooping cough vaccines recommended for adults every 10 years and during pregnancy.
“Vaccination is the best form of disease prevention, so it’s important that people know their vaccination status and keep their vaccines up to date,” Dr. Lukkrai said.
“As is the case with many other diseases we currently face, practicing good hygiene can also help prevent the spread of the disease.”
Although no other cases of diphtheria have been reported in New South Wales since the 1990s, other less serious cases of diphtheria have been reported in rare cases, mostly involving the skin.
The diphtheria vaccination is provided free of charge by your doctor.
Originally published as Why a disease that was known for over a century has returned to northern New South Wales