Diphtheria In Africa

Diphtheria in Africa is a potentially serious infection which is an important hazard to hunters and travellers who have not been vaccinated. All adults should get a diphtheria shot every 10 years after getting their most recent dose. Diphtheria vaccines are combination vaccines which protect against diphtheria and tetanus, and some also protect against pertussis (whooping cough).

Diphtheria Facts

  • Diphtheria is caused by a bacillus spread from an apparently healthy 'carrier' to a non-immune or susceptible individual.
  • Diphtheria affects the upper respiratory system or the skin where it causes a ulcer known as a 'Veldt sore'. It is spread by droplets, which are passed through coughing or sneezing or by direct skin contact. It can also be transmitted via intimate contact with an infected person.
  • The bacteria produce powerful toxins that may damage the nervous system causing paralysis of the swallowing mechanism or limbs.
  • Diphtheria often occurs in outbreaks mostly in northern and western African countries.
  • While there has been a decline in the serious respiratory form of diphtheria, the skin disease has become widespread which effectively immunizes the local population against the more dangerous forms of the disease.
  • More recently the severe type of the disease has reappeared where improved standards of hygiene have meant a decrease in the skin infection by causing a fall in 'natural' immunity.

Diphtheria Symptoms

  • Formation of skin ulcers - 'veldt sores'
  • Infection in the throat produces a thick white membrane which swells and obstructs breathing.

Summary For African Travellers and Hunters

  • Diphtheria of the skin can be prevented by daily washing and keeping skin clean and dry.
  • The best method of protection is vaccination. If you are unsure about your immune status get it checked with a skin test (Schick Test).
  • Penicillin is effective against the diphtheria bacillus and an antitoxin is available to neutralize the toxin.

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Page Updated: Mar 2024

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