In November 2019 reports emerged of 2 adults in the UK diagnosed with diphtheria, triggering widespread panicked headlines talking of possible ‘outbreaks’ of this serious infectious disease.
In fact, both these cases were in people recently returned from travel abroad, and there were no reported cases of transmission within the UK.
However, these cases do raise an interesting question for us in primary care. With falling vaccination rates in our population, it is possible we may see more cases of diphtheria in people returning from travel abroad. Many of us will never have seen a case in our careers, so we thought it might be handy to remind ourselves of the facts! (Public Health England 2014 guidance on the control and management of diphtheria).
Diphtheria is an acute infectious disease triggered by a Corynebacterium. Whilst rare in the UK due to high vaccination rates, it remains prevalent in other parts of the world. It is a serious illness with a mortality rate of around 5-10%.