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A district, a diphtheria scare and the WHO

Diphtheria Inscription in History of the Present Illness. CloseUp View of Medicine Concept. 3D Render.Amidst a diphtheria scare which has reportedly claimed ten lives, a World Health Organization (WHO) team has encamped in the Banaskantha district of Gujarat. 

“A team of [the] WHO has been camping in the district and over 200 teams [of the] state health department are conducting door-to-door survey in affected talukas,” commented chief district health officer Manish Fancy, who said that four children were hospitalised in critical condition at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital for suspected diphtheria. In seven talukas across the district, 35 are under observation. 

“We are awaiting reports from National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune to ascertain the cause of deaths of the suspected diphtheria cases,” Fancy said. “We have distributed pamphlets and are doing personnel meetings with village sarpanchas and other organisations to check the further spread of the disease.” In addition, The Ahmedabad Mirror reported earlier this month that twenty children had been admitted in Palanpur Civil Hospital and another four in private hospitals in the city of Deesa and other towns in the district. 

“We have begun large scale vaccination programmes and are providing Azithromycin treatment to the suspect cases and all who may have come in contact with them,” state immunisation officer Dr Nayan Jani told The Ahmedabad Mirror at the time. Vaccination against diphtheria, till October 18th, had reached 26,000 children and adolescents between the ages of five and fifteen, Jani added.

“Going by the clinical signs and symptoms, we believe it is diphtheria,” Jani noted of the cases. “It cannot be definitely confirmed at this point as samples are being tested and laboratory culture reports are awaited. Surveillance activity is ongoing in the district to detect any other suspected cases.”

Doctors have warned of the need to expand immunisation coverage with the diphtheria vaccine throughout India, which stood at eighty percent in the 2015-16 period – falling short of the threshold for herd immunity to protect those unimmunised against a disease by guaranteeing sufficient numbers of individuals who are immunised. As such, cases of diphtheria reached a thirty-year-high in 2018. The diphtheria scare in the Banaskantha district serves as a case in point of the need for immunisation against diphtheria at the national level.

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