Singapore sees first diphtheria case in 25 years

August 8, 2017

A Bangladeshi construction worker living in Singapore died on August 4 from diphtheria in what is believed to be the first case of the bacterial infection in the country in 25 years, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH).

MOH said the last local case of infection was reported in 1992 while the last imported case was in 1996.

The 21-year-old worker was likely to have been infected in Singapore as he had not travelled out of the country recently, said MOH in a news release.

The Bangladeshi worker had developed symptoms such as fever and swelling of the neck on Jul 30. He sought medical treatment at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on Aug 1 and was immediately isolated and hospitalized, said the ministry. He died three days later.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from one person to another through close contact, through air droplets from coughing or sneezing. It can cause infection of the airway, breathing difficulties and may lead to death in five to 10 per cent of cases.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, swelling of the neck and nasal discharge. It can be treated with an antitoxin and antibiotics.

The risk of diphtheria spreading in Singapore is low, said MOH, as it is compulsory for all children here to be vaccinated against the bacteria.

According to the Health Ministry, the worker who died from diphtheria lived in at dormitory at Yishun Avenue 7 and worked at Teban Gardens.

It is screening those who came into close contact with him. So far, 48 people have been identified for further assessment, said MOH.

Two people who developed a sore throat since Aug 3 are currently isolated at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital although they are both in stable conditions.Their respiratory samples have been taken for diphtheria testing, and the results are pending, said the ministry.

“All 48 contacts have been given preventive medication and a booster diphtheria vaccine, and their respiratory samples have been taken for testing,” said the ministry. It added that the best way to prevent diphtheria is to get vaccinated.

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