When Was the Last Case of Diphtheria?

Believe it or not, measles isn’t the only vaccine-preventable disease that is still around.

While you likely aren’t too surprised about the flu deaths and the cases of meningococcal disease, did you know that kids still get Hib, babies still get hepatitis B, and that there were three cases of human rabies and a case of diphtheria in the United States last year?

When Was the Last Case of Diphtheria?

Yes, diphtheria.

Diphtheria strikes unprotected children.

That’s despite the fact that the diphtheria vaccine has been around for over 100 years, long before it was combined with the first whole cell pertussis vaccine and the tetanus vaccine to form the DPT vaccine.

A vaccine that helped control respiratory diphtheria, which could lead to the formation of a pseudomembrane in a child’s airway, giving diphtheria the nickname of the “strangling angel.”

The last big outbreaks of diphtheria in the United States occurred in the 1970s, although sporadic cases had continued since, albeit at lower and lower levels each year. Eventually, endemic respiratory diphtheria was declared eliminated in 2009.

Still, we know that there have been some recent cases of diphtheria in the United States.

In April of 2014, a teen from Montgomery County, Ohio developed diphtheria.

And again in April of 2018, someone in Oklahoma developed diphtheria.

Why do we care about a few isolated cases?

Because we know how quickly diphtheria can come back if we stop vaccinating our kids!

Just look at what is happening in many other countries that once had these diseases under good control:

  • a 22-year-old unvaccinated women who died in Australia (2011)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old who died in Belgium (2016)
  • a family that became infected in South Africa in which at least one child died (August 2017)
  • at least 7 cases of diphtheria in Ukraine (2018)
  • an unvaccinated man in Australia who died (2018)
  • a case in Canada (2018)
  • 8 cases and 3 deaths in Columbia (2018)

Not to mention the large number of diphtheria deaths in Yemen, Venezuela, Haiti, and among Rohingya refugees.

Let’s not bring these diseases back. Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and obviously necessary.

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