At least 25 female medical students from Kalaburagi district in Karnataka have contracted diphtheria and have been admitted to the hospital for treatment. While 5 of the students were given treatment on an outpatient basis as their condition was found to be stable, 20 others remain in the hospital and are undergoing treatment.
The affected students are all students of the Gulbarga Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS) in the district and all lived in the same hostel. The first student was diagnosed on August 30 by doctors in the ENT department at the hospital. Hospital officials suspect that she was exposed to a patient in the outpatient department (OPD) who had diphtheria.
“We have yet to ascertain the source of the infection, investigations are still underway. We do know that one of the girls who fell sick was staying in the hostel and there is a possibility that some of the other students contracted the infection from her,” explained Dr MK Patil, Kalaburagi District Health Officer (DHO).
Diphtheria is an extremely contagious disease which is caused by the organism Corynebacterium diphtheriae. An infected individual usually develops severe throat pain and the airways can also be affected. If not treated correctly and controlled, the infection can spread and affect several other organs. Diphtheria spreads via the air in the form of droplets. A vaccine is available against diphtheria, in the form of the trivalent (protects against three diseases) DTaP vaccine, which covers diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus.
As per the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), the diphtheria vaccine can be given along with the tetanus toxoid vaccine (TT). It can be given as a pentavalent vaccine (effective against 5 other infections in addition to diphtheria) or can be given via the above mentioned trivalent vaccine. Booster doses are usually given as DT (diphtheria and tetanus) injections. Officials investigating the outbreak at GIMS believe that the reason so many students contracted the infection was because they had not received the vaccine, or if they had, they had not gotten the booster dose.
Though vaccination efforts have considerably improved over the years, officials are encouraging more people to come forward and ensure that they are vaccinated. Symptoms of diphtheria to look out for include severe throat pain or a sore throat, weakness, swollen glands in the neck region, and also fever.