Health Ministry monitoring outbreak of respiratory illness in Venezuela



The Ministry of Public Health is taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of Diphtheria crossing the border from Venezuela where an outbreak has been found in San Antonio, Sifontes, Bolivar State.


Doctors in Venezuela have reported 17 deaths they attribute to the outbreak.


Diphtheria is an upper respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria, which primarily infects the throat and upper airways, and produces a toxin affecting other organs. Diphtheria is transmitted by having direct contact with a patient, contaminated objects or by sneezing or coughing. Skin lesions can also transmit the infection. The symptoms of Diphtheria include a sore throat, fever, adherent membrane over the nose, tonsils and throat and skin lesions. The diphtheria toxin causes a membrane of dead tissue to build up over the throat and tonsils, making breathing and swallowing difficult.


The diphtheria toxin causes a membrane of dead tissue to build up over the throat and tonsils, making breathing and swallowing difficult.During days 1-3 of infection, persons are likely to notice whitish membrane in the throat while on day 4-6; it is likely to change to a grayish colour.


If left untreated, Diphtheria can result in infection of the lungs, heart failure, kidney damage, paralysis (inability to move arms and/ or legs) and in some cases, death.


Diphtheria can be cured successfully if treatment is started early enough. The most effective way of preventing Diphtheria is through vaccination. DPT vaccine protects against Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus.  Guyana has repeatedly attained over 90% vaccine coverage, however, there are areas within the interior locations where coverage is less. A multi- disciplinary team of health professionals will be targeting villages bordering Venezuela. The team will provide vaccinations to all vulnerable children and ensure health officers in the regions are on the alert for any probable case.


The DPT vaccine is highly effective and safe and it is available in all the public health facilities countrywide. Treatment for Diptheria includes the administration of antibiotics such as erythromycin and penicillin which are available in Guyana.


For more information on Diphtheria, contact the Maternal Child Health Department on 226 7338.

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