Five new cases of diphtheria were diagnosed at the Kozhikode Medical College (KMC) on Tuesday, of which two patients were adults, both aged 38 years old. With this, an astonishing 71 cases of adults contracting diphtheria have been reported this year across the state. Comparatively, in 2011 and 2013, according to Dr Sheela Mathew of the General Medicine department at KMC, only one case each were reported of adults contracting the disease.
Dr Sheela says that most of the adult patients with diphtheria come from Kozhikode, Malappuram, Wayanad, Kannur and Palakkad. The alarming rise in the number of cases, she says, is the result of lack of vaccination or incomplete vaccination among children in these areas.
She explains that while the diphtheria vaccine reduces transmission rates and the severity of the illness, it does not fully guarantee against contracting the illness. And when adults come into close contact with unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children, they can contract the illness.
Incomplete vaccination occurs when children do not receive all of the five doses of the vaccination that they should receive periodically up to the age of 10.
Until last week, KMCâ€™s diphtheria was located in ward No 43. However, with the sudden influx of patients, the adult diphtheria ward had to be shifted on Monday to the new super speciality building of the hospital, and an additional six staff members assigned to it.
However, although the new ward comprises 50 beds, already 71 patients have been admitted here, leaving at least 20 patients having to use makeshift arrangements on the floor of the ward. The hospital says it is in the process of adding more beds and facilities to the ward.
Meanwhile, the hospital is also facing an increased demand for diphtheria vaccines, with many families form Malappuram and Kozhikode coming here demanding that their children now be vaccinated. According to the hospitalâ€™s PRO, Sithara, this is placing great demand on the hospital, since it holds a limited number of vaccines based on expected numbers according to the vaccination protocol.
With many older children now being brought for vaccination, this is affecting the availability of the vaccine in the hospital, and the hospital is forced to ask these older patients to source the medication from other sources.