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HEALTH SCARE

Six-year-old boy who contracted diphtheria dies in hospital

Child’s parents had not vaccinated him despite free service from health authorities

He became the first case of the disease seen in Spain since 1987

Vall d'Hebron Hospital, in Barcelona, where the child was being treated.
Vall d'Hebron Hospital, in Barcelona, where the child was being treated.

A six-year-old boy from Olot, Catalonia, who had contracted diptheria died in the early hours of Saturday morning. The youngster, whose parents had chosen not to vaccinate him against the disease, had been in the intensive care unit of Vall d’Hebron hospital for 25 days, but was unable to overcome the effect the illness had had on his organs.

Doctors had treated the child with antibiotics and a special drug that had to be imported from Russia, which was aimed at slowing down the more severe effects of the illness.

Doctors had treated the child with antibiotics and a special drug that had to be imported from Russia

According to a statement from Health Minister Alfonso Alonso, the child had suffered damage to his kidneys, lungs and heart, which was working via machines controlled by the transplant team in the Barcelona hospital.

The child began showing symptoms (general illness, headaches, fever and inflammation of tonsils) on May 23, but it was not until five days later, on May 28, when he was admitted to hospital in Olot, due to a worsening of his condition, according to the Public Health Agency.

That same day, the regional government was informed that the child could be suffering from diphtheria.

On May 29, the National Center of Microbiology received a sample from the hospital where the youngster was bring treated, and on May 30 the laboratory confirmed that he had indeed contracted the disease.

Public health authorities in Spain are still working to detect the source of the outbreak. Ten more people in the same area have also been infected, but have not developed the disease because they had been vaccinated. They include nine of the 57 children who were in contact with the victim in the days before he developed the symptoms, along with an adult, who was in particularly close contact to one of the nine minors.

The 10 people who are carrying the bacteria are being treated with antibiotics and have been confined to their houses, apart from two who have already been given the all-clear. By isolating them the authorities hope to prevent the bacteria from being passed on to someone who has not been vaccinated.

The 10 people carrying the bacteria are being treated with antibiotics and have been confined to their homes

The child from Olot was the first registered case of diphtheria in Spain in nearly three decades. This infectious disease had been all but wiped out thanks to mass vaccination campaigns in Spain. Vaccinations against diphtheria began in Spain in 1945, and in 1965 it was included along with jabs for tetanus and whooping cough. From 1,000 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants there were soon barely any. The Health Ministry registered the last case in 1987. Catalonia had not seen a case for 32 years.

Speaking before his death, the parents of the six-year-old boy said that they felt “tricked” by the anti-vaccination groups they once admired.

“The family is devastated and admit that they feel tricked, because they were not properly informed,” said Catalan public health chief Antoni Mateu at the time. “They have a deep sense of guilt, which we are trying to rid them of.”