Date: Mon 16 Nov 2015
Source: Public Broadcasting of Latvia [edited]
Despite state-funded vaccines, cases of diphtheria in Latvia have doubled in the last 3 years. At a time when the disease has been all but eradicated in other EU countries, in Latvia 20 people have died from diphtheria in the last 15 years, including 4 children. Parents' irresponsibility, lack of knowledge, and myths about vaccination are to blame, Latvian Radio reported on Mon 16 Nov 2015; 1/3rd of the EU's diphtheria patients are Latvians.
The last diphtheria outbreak in Latvia happened in the early 1990s when more than 300 people caught the disease. The epidemic was caused by anti-vaccination sentiments in a large part of society. "There were calls that [people] shouldn't be vaccinated, and many responded to these calls and didn't vaccinate their children in the 1980s. As a result, the so-called collective immunity crumbled," said Juris Perevoscikovs, a representative from the [Latvian] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (SPKC).
The epidemic was prevented after a wide vaccination campaign, but since 2011, cases have been on the rise again. From 2009 to 2011, there were 14 diphtheria patients in Latvia -- only in adults -- while in the last 3 years, the number of cases has doubled and there are 16 children among the patients.
The SPKC admits that it's a huge number when compared to other EU countries, where diphtheria has been almost completely eradicated.
"In the EU, there have been 93 diphtheria cases in 3 years. Of these, 27 were registered in Latvia. Practically speaking, every 3rd case in the EU is tied to Latvia.
The cases outside of Latvia, like in Germany or the United Kingdom, are mostly due to people visiting foreign countries, India, for example, where diphtheria is still not something unusual. "The people in Latvia, though, didn't go anywhere. They caught the disease right here," said Perevoscikovs.
As before, one of the main reasons why there are so many cases of the disease now is that people choose not to get diphtheria shots. About 95 percent of Latvian infants have been vaccinated in their 1st year of life, while only a little more than half are vaccinated among adults.
However, vaccines are the only safeguard against the disease, the mortality rate of which reaches 10 percent. Sadly, 20 people have died from diphtheria in the last 15 years, and 4 of them were children. None of them had been vaccinated, said Perevoscikovs.
Dace Zavadska, a pediatrist from the Children's Clinical Hospital where the last 2 registered cases of diphtheria were treated, listed a few reasons why parents choose forgoing vaccination for their children. "It's fear of [adverse] reactions, of which most are transient and don't harm the child in any way. Then there are many stories and myths on the Internet, between friends and among activist groups, about complications that may arise, but in reality it's not based on facts," said Zavadska.
Family practitioners should encourage vaccination. The SPKC told Latvian Radio that family practitioners should convince people to take vaccines, which are voluntary. Old people are particularly hard to convince about vaccination. "Those who work, and young people, they all agree to have shots, while more than half of those over 70 refuse. They say that they have already lived their life and that they won't catch the disease anymore. The argument that they can become disease carriers and endanger others if they don't get vaccinated doesn't convince them," said family practitioner Ainars Mezals.
The diphtheria vaccine is fully funded by the state. Adults should take reinforcing (booster) doses every 10 years. If the number of cases rises again, it's possible that the interval will be reduced to 5 years. [Byline: Aija Pakalna]
[Aggressive vaccination programs are the sole way to prevent a spate of infectious diseases.
The following is extracted from:
Diphtheria takes its name from the Greek word dipthera meaning leather and was named in 1826 by French physician Pierre Bretonneau. This is because it refers to the leathery, sheath-like membrane that grows on the tonsils, throat and in the nose. It was previously considered to be one of the most dreaded diseases, with frequent large-scale outbreaks in the New England colonies between 1735 and 1740. It was said that the disease killed as many as 80 percent of the children below 10 years of age.
Diphtheria is otherwise called the "Strangling Angel of Children" and was a dreaded common childhood illness. Statistics shows that in the 1920s there were an estimated 100 000 to 200 000 cases of diphtheria per year in the United States, with 13 000 to 15 000 deaths. - ProMed Mod.LL]
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