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Diphtheria outbreak declared in Sandakan following death of 9-year-old boy

KOTA KINABALU: A diphtheria outbreak has been declared in Sandakan by the city’s Health Office following the death of a 9-year-old boy from the disease.
The boy – a foreigner living at Jambatan 18, Kampung Sim Sim – died on July 26, but the case was only officially confirmed on Aug 4 by the Duchess of Kent Hospital here.
News of the outbreak broke through a photograph of a health circular on the matter, which has been making its rounds on social media in the last few days.
The Aug 5 letter declaring the emergence of diphtheria – an infectious disease that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose – was issued by the Sandakan Health Office.
“The Infectious Disease Control Unit of the Sandakan Health Office has declared Diphtheria Epidemic Episode 1/2017 and opened a Diphtheria Epidemic Operation Room beginning Aug 4,” the circular states.
Local daily The Borneo Post reported that the boy was a foreigner who had incomplete immunisation.
The paper reported that the victim began showing symptoms of fever, cough, flu and sore throat on July 18 and was taken to hospital three days later.
He tested positive for corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria and died on July 26.
Sabah Health Department director Datuk Dr Christina Rundi confirmed the case to the New Straits Times.
She added that two out of 18 people who lived with the boy have presented mild diphtheria symptoms.
“They have been treated and the others have received prophylaxis treatment. Seven children from the same house have also been given complete diphtheria immunisation.
“The immunisation status of 11 others, including the boy’s parents, is being probed. Those who have been in contact with the family and live nearby have also been given prophylaxis treatment. They are healthy,” Dr Christina added.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diphtheria primarily infects the throat and upper airways, and produces a toxin affecting other organs.
The illness has an acute onset and the main symptoms are sore throat, low fever and swollen glands in the neck; and the toxin may, in severe cases, cause myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage).
The disease is spread through direct physical contact, or from breathing in the aerosolised secretions from coughs or sneezes, of infected individuals.
In countries where diphtheria is endemic, WHO states that the disease occurs sporadically and is fatal in five to 10 per cent of cases, with a higher mortality rate in young children.
Treatment involves administering diphtheria antitoxin to neutralise the effects of the toxin, as well as antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

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