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Czech Republic - Diphtheria claimed its first victim this year, an 82-year-old man died

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  • Czech Republic - Diphtheria claimed its first victim this year, an 82-year-old man died

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    Diphtheria claimed its first victim this year, an 82-year-old man died


    Diphtheria disease appeared in the Czech Republic in 2022 after 27 years when no such infection was recorded. For the entire year 2022 and 2023, the statistics record a total of 12 cases. From the beginning of 2024 to 3/6, 6 patients fell ill with diphtheria, and now the first recorded death since 1969 has occurred. An eighty-two-year-old man died in a hospital in Jihlava. In view of the fact that he had a permanent residence in Prague, the Hygiene Station of the capital city of Prague also took over the case for epidemiological investigation.

    "The patient from Prague, who was fighting an infection in the Jihlava hospital, most likely had a throat (pharyngeal) form of infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The patient did not suffer from any other serious illness, he was an athlete and an active elderly person. So diphtheria was probably the direct cause of death," said the deputy head of the Department of Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases of the SZÚ MUDr. Kateřina Fabiánová, Ph.D.

    The definitive diagnosis of diphtheria will be confirmed by the National Reference Laboratory of the State Health Institute based on the results of examination of samples from the patient. Considering the clinical symptoms of the disease, which were completely typical and fatal for diphtheria in the patient, we assume that it was indeed a case of diphtheria.

    A well-set system of prevention and control worked, and the case was taken over by the relevant regional hygiene station of the Vysočina region in Jihlava, which also carried out an investigation of the contacts of the infected person in the medical facility. According to the place of residence, the further investigation was handed over to the Hygiene Station of the capital city of Prague, which, as part of the epidemiological investigation, sought out the patient's contacts and ensured that they were given anti-epidemic measures, including examination and, in close contacts, also the administration of antibiotic prophylaxis.

    The last case of diphtheria was recorded in the Czech Republic before 2022 in 1995. "The development once again points to the importance of revaccination against diphtheria in adulthood. With regard to the rapidly increasing number of cases of whooping cough and at the same time the possibility of contracting diphtheria, it is ideal to get revaccinated in adulthood with a triple combination, against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria. The first opportunity for adults is connected with regular revaccination against tetanus at 25 years of age. Although this triple combination is not yet covered by health insurance, as a doctor I can only recommend revaccination," said the director of the State Health Institute MUDr. Barbora Macková, MHA. She added that revaccination against diphtheria is not yet recommended in the Czech Republic, although a proposal for revaccination of the Czech adult population was submitted by the Expert Working Group of the National Immunization Commission (NIKO) already in the spring of 2022. The proposal recommends revaccination against diphtheria at least at the age of 25 years and 40 years, possibly as part of regular revaccination against tetanus.

    "The results of an international seroprevalence study in 18 European countries in persons aged 40-49 and 50-59 years showed a significant lack of antibodies against diphtheria in the adult population. In most of the evaluated countries, this is the result of a drop in post-vaccination immunity, which was also proven by the latest serological reviews in the Czech Republic," epidemiologist Kateřina Fabiánová also points out the importance of revaccination in adulthood.

    In the Czech Republic, children are vaccinated against diphtheria compulsorily, and they receive the last dose of the vaccine between the ages of 10 and 11, similarly to the previously mentioned whooping cough. The World Health Organization as well as the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control recommend booster vaccination against diphtheria in adulthood every 10 years.

    A diphtheria infection can be treated in the Czech Republic with commonly available antibiotics, but the condition is timely diagnosis. It most often manifests itself as a severe sore throat with gray patches, or with attacked parts of the mucous membrane of the neck, which then lead to a narrowing of the airways and suffocation of the patient.

    The annual diphtheria surveillance report that we published last year can be found here.

    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela

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