Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 16:18 UK

Jab urged after diphtheria death

Baby being vaccinated
Babies are routinely vaccinated against diphtheria

Infectious disease experts have warned parents to check their children are vaccinated after a child in London died from what is thought to be diphtheria.

The infection is now extremely rare in the UK due to a vaccine programme which was introduced in 1942.

There have been just three other deaths from diptheria in the UK since 1994.

Precautions have been taken to prevent the child's infection spreading to other people, the Health Protection Agency said.

It is important that we maintain high levels of immunisation to prevent diphtheria in the UK
Professor Peter Borriello

The few isolated cases of diphtheria that are seen in the UK are usually in unvaccinated people who have travelled to countries where the disease is still common.

It affects the upper respiratory tract, nose, throat, voice box and upper windpipe and occasionally, the skin.

Symptoms include a sore throat, fever and swollen lymph glands in the neck.

But more serious symptoms can occur if the diphtheria is caused by a strain that produces toxins.

No official details about the child have been released.

'Rare'

Professor Peter Borriello, from the Health Protection Agency said: "It is rare for people to die from diphtheria as severe infection is prevented by immunisation and the majority of children are routinely immunised against diphtheria in the UK.

"This child had not been immunised."

He added that close contacts of the child have been prescribed antibiotics and booster immunisations where necessary.

"Due to these measures and the protective effect of immunisation we believe that it is unlikely that others will be affected.

"It is important that we maintain high levels of immunisation to prevent diphtheria in the UK.

"Whilst it is uncommon here, cases occur more frequently in other countries and therefore diphtheria can be introduced into the UK by people travelling.

"Our thoughts are with this child's family and friends at this difficult time."

Babies are routinely immunised against diphtheria at two, three and four months old.

Booster doses are given before starting school and then again between the age of 16 and 18 years.

Since 2001 uptake of the vaccine has been 94% although coverage in London is only 86%.

Before vaccination there were about 60,000 cases of diphtheria in the UK with 4,000 deaths.

Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation said diphtheria is a serious respiratory illness.

"The bacteria which causes the disease can be found virtually anywhere, but diphtheria is rare in the UK and elsewhere in the west because of our comprehensive child vaccination programme."




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