CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 19 (UPI) — The Venezuelan Society of Public Health has warned that diphtheria, an easily contagious infectious disease eradicated in Venezuela in the late 1940s, could be the reason three children recently died.
The health group said the suspected diphtheria cases occurred in Venezuela’s Bolivar state, where the children presented symptoms.
Diphtheria, caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, leads to a thick covering in the back of the throat that can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and death. Diphtheria is easily prevented through a vaccine.
The group has urged Venezuela’s health authorities to warn the public of a possible diphtheria outbreak in Bolivar and to supply prophylactic antibiotics and vaccines to children near where the suspected cases occurred, El Nacional reports.
The group also called on the Venezuelan government under President Nicolas Maduro to expand healthcare to cover vaccination plans that include diphtheria in children.
“Diphtheria once was a major cause of illness and death among children. The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921 and 15,520 deaths. Before there was treatment for diphtheria, up to half of the people who got the disease died from it,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. “Starting in the 1920s, diphtheria rates dropped quickly in the United States and other countries with the widespread use of vaccines.”
The CDC said that there were 7,321 reported cases of diphtheria worldwide in 2014. Venezuela is facing an economic crisis in which food, basic goods and medicines are either in short supply or not available.