Deadly diphtheria returns to southern Vietnam due to low vaccination rate

By    July 18, 2016 | 11:05 pm PT
The outbreak of diphtheria has resulted in at least 61 cases.

Binh Phuoc Province, 140 kilometers to the north of Ho Chi Minh City, has seen an outbreak of preventable diphtheria which so far has killed three people aged 6-26, according to local health authorities.

The resurgence of diphtheria, according to health experts, is due to a low vaccination rate.

Although some of the dead had been vaccinated, they probably didn’t follow the recommended schedule and doses of the vaccine, Phan Trong Lan, director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Pasteur Institute, was quoted by the government's online newspaper as saying.

He said that the vast majority of vaccinated people will be immune to the disease.

Statistics show that the vaccination rate in Binh Phuoc Province’s Dong Phu District was on a steady decline from 2008 to 2013, creating a dangerously lower immunity level in the area.

Every person who is successfully vaccinated helps slow the spread of the infection, reducing the risk to unvaccinated people, said Nguyen Trung Cap, deputy head of the emergency department at the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

He added in other words, unvaccinated people are highly likely to be protected by what is known as “herd immunity”. Those who are not immunized are much more highly likely to become infected in an outbreak in a community where the vaccination rate is low.

Diphtheria, a bacterial infection, can result in high fevers, a sore throat, swollen gland in the neck, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, it can cause life-threatening complications like difficulty breathing, pneumonia, nerve damage, paralysis and damage to the heart muscle. 

At least 59 new cases have been recorded in the districts of Thuan Phu, Thuan Loi and Dong Tien in Binh Phuoc Province since the beginning of July, bringing the total cases to 61 since the disease broke out last month.

The disease originated in a community of ethnic minority S’Tieng people who have limited access to information, said Huynh Thi Hang, vice chairwoman of the provincial People’s Committee. She said that local health authorities need to quickly take preventive measures and ask these people to go for checkups and vaccinations.

The Ministry of Health has urged Binh Phuoc Province’s health authorities to work closely with the Pasteur Institute and Ho Chi Minh City’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases to stop the disease from killing more people, said Tran Dac Phu, head of the Preventive Medicine Department.

“The Ministry of Health is committed to putting an end to the epidemic as soon as possible,” Phu said.

More than 700 people in Binh Phuoc Province have been vaccinated in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading, according to local authorities.

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