Between May and June 2023, Nigeria reported 836 confirmed cases and 80 deaths attributed to diphtheria, according to the diphtheria situation report released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on a Saturday. The confirmed cases were spread across 33 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in seven states and the FCT.
During this period, 2,455 suspected cases were reported from 24 states, with approximately 71.5 percent of the confirmed cases affecting children aged 2 to 14. Surprisingly, only 181 out of the 836 confirmed cases (21.7 percent) had received a “diphtheria toxin-containing vaccine,” despite diphtheria being preventable through vaccination.
Kano state accounted for most confirmed cases, with 819 out of 836 cases, followed by Lagos State with eight cases, and Yobe and Katsina state with three and two cases, respectively. The FCT, Osun, Kaduna, and Cross River states recorded a single case.
Diphtheria is a severe bacterial infection caused by the Corynebacterium species, primarily affecting the nose, throat, and occasionally the skin. Children and adults who haven’t been vaccinated and those living in crowded and unsanitary environments are at higher risk of contracting the disease. The infection spreads quickly through direct contact with infected individuals, droplets from coughing or sneezing, and contact with contaminated objects.
Symptoms of diphtheria include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes (conjunctivitis), and neck swelling. In severe cases, a thick grey or white patch can form on the tonsils and/or the back of the throat, leading to difficulty in breathing.
To prevent diphtheria, the NCDC advises parents to ensure their children receive the three doses of the pentavalent vaccine as part of the childhood immunization schedule. Healthcare workers should also remain vigilant and watch out for potential symptoms. Individuals with suggestive signs and symptoms of diphtheria should isolate themselves and promptly notify their local government area’s state disease surveillance officer.