Sunday, December 10, 2017
Diphtheria: What Exactly Is It ... And Why Is It Back? The World Health Organization says it is sending a shipment of antitoxins to Bangladesh this weekend, after six deaths in a Rohingya refugee settlement. The organization did the same last week for Yemen, where at least 30 have died of the bacterial infection, many of them children. "It is shocking that in 2017, there are children dying of an ancient disease that is vaccine-preventable and can be easily treated," says Dr. Nevio Zagaria, the WHO representative in Yemen. The bacterium that causes diphtheria can live in some people without causing them to show symptoms, which can occasionally lead to a Typhoid Mary-type situation where a person spreads it around without even realizing he has it. It spreads between people in infected coughs and sneezes. Kids can also pick it up from playing with contaminated toys. Symptoms include sore throat, a low fever and lack of appetite, followed by a visible grayish coating in the nose or throat, and a swollen throat sometimes called a "bullneck." The bacteria attach to the lining of the respiratory system and produce a poison that starts killing healthy tissue. It does so by preventing cells from creating proteins, which essentially shuts them down. After a few days, it can kill so many cells that dead tissue forms a grayish layer in the nose and throat that can make it hard to breathe or swallow. Essentially, it can choke a person on his own dead cells. If the poison also gets into the bloodstream, it can damage vital organs like the heart and kidneys. Interestingly, there are actually two layers of infection going on here, because it's a virus inside the bacterium that causes it to create the toxin in the first place. Eventually, the illness can cause nerve damage, paralysis and respiratory failure.