Diseases: Increasing case numbers of skin diphtheria in Europe

As part of a Europe-wide outbreak of skin diphtheria, an unusually large number of cases of the now rare disease have been discovered in Germany.

Diseases: Increasing case numbers of skin diphtheria in Europe

As part of a Europe-wide outbreak of skin diphtheria, an unusually large number of cases of the now rare disease have been discovered in Germany. Since last summer, 170 pieces of evidence have been reported that belonged to an outbreak among refugees, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) told the German Press Agency on request (data status April 12). In almost nine out of ten cases it is about so-called skin diphtheria, no deaths were known. According to the information, migrants who have entered Germany are affected by the most recent outbreak, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan. The RKI explained that there were no cases in this connection among caring staff or in the general population.

Research teams from several countries want to present findings on the outbreak at the European Congress for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Copenhagen, which starts on Saturday. The RKI had already presented interim results on the outbreak last year.

Experts assume that those affected were not infected either in their home country or in Germany. The source of the outbreak is unclear, but it is suspected to be on the way along the Balkan route. Between January and November 2022 alone, researchers in ten European countries identified more than 360 cases, as can be seen from documents presented in advance of the congress. It is assumed that the infected were not vaccinated or not sufficiently vaccinated. In order to reduce the number of infections, the team led by Helena Seth-Smith from the University of Zurich recommends, among other things, better sensitization of migrants, doctors and responsible staff as well as timely screening of people at risk.

According to the RKI, only individual cases of diphtheria have been reported annually since reunification in Germany. From 2016 to 2021, the rate for the first vaccination in babies was 98 percent, as the RKI announced on request, for the third it was 91 percent. Adults are recommended to be refreshed every ten years. According to the RKI, in 2021 around 53 percent of adults in Germany had received a vaccination against diphtheria in the past ten years.

There are two forms of diphtheria: severe sore throat (respiratory diphtheria) and less dangerous skin or wound diphtheria. Cutaneous diphtheria can be transmitted through direct contact with infected people or infectious discharge. A disease leads to greasy wounds on the skin and mucous membrane. Respiratory diphtheria is usually transmitted via droplets, such as when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Symptoms such as a sore throat, hoarseness, and fever can occur when infected. The disease can be fatal.

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