Nambour Hospital.
Nambour Hospital. Iain Curry

Coast diphtheria bacteria strain doesn’t cause diphtheria


IT is the same deadly bacteria, but the strain of Cornybacterium diphtheria diagnosed in a Sunshine Coast man won't actually cause diphtheria.

The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service has sent out a press release explaining the difference between infectious diphtheria and the "non-infectious" case confirmed on the Sunshine Coast last week.

"A Sunshine Coast person was diagnosed with a non-toxin strain of the bacteria, Corynebacterium diptheriae, at the weekend," a SCHHS public health physician, Dr Andrew Langley, said

 "This strain does not cause diphtheria. This bacteria can also produce toxin which causes diphtheria," Dr Langley said.

The toxin causing strain of diphtheria was  diagnosed in Brisbane.

Dr Langley said the "two cases are not linked".

Although a SCHHS spokeswoman explained both strains were preventable with vaccinations and were rare.

"Diphtheria is a potentially life-threatening infection caused by this strong toxin from the bacteria," Dr Langley said.

"When this type of bacteria is found in laboratory testing it is then tested to see if it produces the toxin.

"Nearly all of the samples with Corynebacterium diphtheriae do not produce toxin and do not cause diphtheria.

"The non-toxin strains can still cause mild illness, such as sore throat or non-healing wounds."

However, Sunshine Coast GP and Australian Medical Association member, Dr Wayne Herdy couldn't see how the cases weren't linked as diphtheria was a "specific response to a germ you have".

"It is still infectious and a nasty infection and it is still a strain of diphtheria," he said.

It wouldn't however produce the deadly strain that used to kill thousands of children.

"Classic diphtheria used to kill little kids, it was commonest cause of death in pre-school children in Australia, even more so than measles and mumps put together," Dr Herdy said.

And what was of most concern was six confirmed cases of the toxic diphtheria had been confirmed in Queensland this year, including the one in Brisbane last week

"Although this is a very small number, it is of concern and it may be people have become complacent against vaccine preventable illnesses," he said.

Dr Langley said diphtheria was "not highly infectious".

"It usually requires close and prolonged contact with a person with diphtheria to be infected with the bacteria," he said.

"Infection can occur with contact with uncovered wounds or respiratory secretion, such as intimate kissing.

"Symptoms usually occur within two to five days although it can occasionally take as long as 10 days."

Dr Langley said when a case of diphtheria occurred the Public Health unit "intensively follows up the people who may have been exposed to the person to ensure they are not at risk of the severe consequences of infection".

"Fully immunised people are not at risk of the severe effects of diphtheria bacteria.

"People who are immunised, partly immunised or unimmunised still have the risk of becoming carriers of the diphtheria which can then infect unimmunised people including those too young to be immunised.

"Diphtheria used to be a common infectious cause of death in young children until the widespread use of diphtheria vaccines in the 1950s. The disease is still common in some countries and people should check they are up to date with their diphtheria vaccine before travelling overseas.

"The strains with toxin cause moderate to severe illness. Illness can last weeks unless the right antibiotics are used. The strains can be penicillin resistant. The toxin causes symptoms such as:

 Sore throat

 Fever

 Difficulty swallowing

 Swollen glands around the neck

 Swelling of the neck

 Change in voice or noisy breathing

 Unusual runny nose

 Unusual skin infections.


"People who have been in contact with a person with diphtheria who develop any of these symptoms within 10 days of contact with the person should rapidly seek medical advice.

"If people have been potentially exposed to diphtheria they should check they are fully vaccinated which means they have add a course of at least three vaccines and follow up boosters.

"If they have not finished the course or had a booster within five years they should complete a course of vaccination or have a booster of a diphtheria vaccine."

Dr Herdy said all children should have multiple vaccines against diphtheria.

"Even though no immunisation is 100% effective children are pretty safe (with the vaccine).

"All adults who have maintained their tetanus immunity for the last 20 years who also be protected against diphtheria.

"When adults get the tetanus booster they also get immunisation against the diphtheria toxin.

"Any adult who knows their tetanus immunity is not up-to-date should request a booster vaccine which will include against diptherea.

"This is a free vaccine, although the doctor's consultation many not be."


THE younger brother of the Sunshine Coast man diagnosed with "non-infectious diphtheria" was hospitalised and quarantined while waiting for test results to see if he has a strain of the rare, deadly disease.

The father said the younger brother was taken to Nambour Hospital yesterday as his swollen, painful throat had not been getting any better.

He was put in quarantine and tested before being discharged from hospital that same day to be treated for "tonsillitis or glandular fever."

The father said they were waiting for swab results on whether he also had a strain of diphtheria.

Queensland Health confirmed on the weekend a "case of non-infectious diphtheria was diagnosed on the Sunshine Coast this week".

It was the second case of the rare disease, once thought to have been wiped out by vaccine in Australia, in a week.

The other, Brisbane case was of the serious, contagious kind.

"Over the weekend Public Health is following up people who may have been exposed to ensure they are protected from what can be a severe infection," a health spokesman said in regards to the Brisbane case.

"People are protected by vaccination but people who have had a lot of exposure may need antibiotics or a booster vaccination."

Queensland Health advised there had been six cases of diphtheria confirmed this year so far, double the "two or three" from previous years.

"We continue to see some travellers who have acquired this bacteria overseas," the spokesman said

The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service has advised it is working on a media release suggesting the Coast case was not diphtheria, although it was somehow related.

The Daily is waiting for this response.

But the father of the sick boys said he had a doctor's certificate showing his son had been diagnosed with diphtheria and he had also spoken to person in Brisbane, believed to be Queensland Public Health head Andrew Langley, who explained his son had the "less severe strain of diphtheria".

Queensland Health was unable to answer questions on the weekend concerning non-contagious diphtheria.

The man said his older son had been advised to stay in "home quarantine" and not share cups and items with other members of the family.

He was now "fully recovered" as the focus of concern turned to his younger brother.

"He was hospitalised yesterday and we are waiting on swab results," the dad said.

"We went to the doctor yesterday morning as he was not improving, in fact he was worse throat-wise

"The doctor sent him straight to hospital where he was put in quarantine on a drip with antibiotics.

"We are hoping to get some sort of confirmation today.

"With my other son, we got the results straight away."

He said the hospital appeared to be taking the case very seriously.

"When at the hospital, the nurses wouldn't go near him without swabs and masks," he said.

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