What is diphtheria? Thousands of migrants to be vaccinated following spike in cases

In the UK, babies and children have been routinely vaccinated against diphtheria since the 1940s (Ed Us/Unsplash)
In the UK, babies and children have been routinely vaccinated against diphtheria since the 1940s (Ed Us/Unsplash)

Thousands of migrants in the UK are to be vaccinated following a spike in diphtheria cases among asylum seekers.

The UK Health Security Agency said it was working with the Home Office to vaccinate migrants at the Manston asylum centre against the disease.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that four cases had been identified as of November 1. He said that those affected had arrived at the centre in Kent already infected.

The UKHSA also revealed that 39 diphtheria cases had been identified in asylum seekers in England in 2022, as of November 10.

What is diphtheria?

It is a highly contagious infection. It affects the nose, throat, and sometimes the skin, and can be serious and sometimes fatal, if not treated quickly, according to the NHS.

The infection is rare in the UK but there’s a risk of catching it by travelling to some parts of the world.

What are its symptoms?

Symptoms usually start two to five days after infection and include the following:

  • a thick, grey-white coating on the back of your throat, nose and tongue

  • a high temperature

  • a sore throat

  • swollen glands in your neck

  • difficulty breathing and swallowing

Cutaneous diphtheria is an infection of the skin and symptoms include pus-filled blisters and large ulcers.

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How is it spread?

Diphtheria is highly contagious and can be spread via coughs and sneezes, or through close contact with someone who is infected.

It can also be spread by sharing items such as cutlery or bedding with an infected person.

How is it treated?

Diphtheria can be treated with antibiotics, medicine and by cleaning wounds if it has affected the skin.

People who have been in close contact with someone who is infected may also need treatment.

Can it be prevented?

Diphtheria can be prevented by vaccination. In the UK, babies and children have been routinely vaccinated against diphtheria since the 1940s, which is why it’s rare here.

People who intend to travel to parts of the world where there is a higher risk of diphtheria may need a booster vaccine before travelling.