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Diphtheria cases rise in England as three die from the disease

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Cases of the highly contagious disease diphtheria have risen significantly over the past year, with three people dying from the disease, new figures show.

According to the latest release from the UK Health Protection Agency, the increasing number of cases were linked to spread between asylum seekers and people catching it from their pets.

Toxigenic diphtheria was diagnosed in 87 people in England last year, a huge jump from 10 cases in 2021.

Some 72 cases of Corynebacterium diphtheriae (C. diphtheriae) were found in asylum seekers who had recently arrived in England.

An asylum seeker died of the disease in November last year after being held at the Manston processing center in Kent.

In 2022, 11 cases of the Corynebacterium Ulcerans (C. Ulcerans) strain were reported, all linked to people’s pets. Two people died from this type of diphtheria. However, there is no direct evidence that this strain undergoes person-to-person transmission.

Toxigenic C. diphtheria is a highly contagious infection that spreads through coughs, sneezes, or close contact with an infected person. In the UK infants and children are vaccinated against it and so cases are rare in the UK.

Over the past decade, the number of diphtheria cases in England has increased from an average of 2 to more than 10 per year.

Gayathri Amruthalingam, UKHSA diphtheria incidence director, said: “The number of diphtheria cases in the UK is very low, as is the risk of diphtheria to the wider public. This is due to the high use of diphtheria vaccine in this country, and because infection Usually spread by prolonged contact with a case.

More to follow…