Diphtheria in Spain

Did you know there has been a return of Diphtheria in Spain this year?

Diphtheria is a nasty vaccine preventable disease which causes sever inflammation of the nose, throat and windpipe. It can cause toxins and an abnormal membrane to grow in the throat which can lead to suffocation. It can also cause other problems such as heart failure and paralysis. About 10% of people exposed to diphtheria die.

In Australia, diphtheria is covered with the DTaP vaccine, which covers Diphtheria, Tetanus and Whooping Cough (Pertussis.) DTaP is given to children as part of the National Immunisation program.

One of the big problems with the resurgence of a controlled disease is that often, we no longer have the resources or capacity to handle the resulting sick or injured people. Spain faced such a problem with the Diphtheria return – it simply did not have the stocks of anti-toxin needed to treat the victims.

Thankfully Russia was able to help out, and delivery was accomplished with a British Consul couriering the supplies to Spain in thermos flasks. The whole story can be found in an excellent article at the Conversation. Click on the quote below to read more:

The recourse to diplomatic channels and the ad hoc supply of medication echoes the chaotic situation more usually associated with times of war and international emergency. A look into the Spanish government archives reveals that during the World War II, for example, Spain’s small West-African colony in what is now Equatorial Guinea faced a dangerous outbreak of Yellow Fever. Facing the collapse of its economy and wartime disruption to international supply, the Spanish government struggled to secure basic medication and to distribute the relevant vaccines both at home and in its overseas colonies.

Help eventually arrived from the local British Consul who agreed to fly to Lagos and bring back supplies of the vaccine in thermos flasks. While these kind of ad hoc solutions may have been a necessary during a time of international conflict, they seem profoundly out of place in today’s apparently more orderly international system.