Venezuela reported around 123 new cases of diphtheria to the World Health Organization (WHO) from January 2017 to mid-June, raising the total number of suspected cases of the disease to 447 since September 2016, according to a Cuban Health Ministry web page. Response to the outbreak has been hindered by the continued deterioration of the health sector in Venezuela, as well as increasingly unsanitary conditions in public spaces amid escalating social and political unrest. The Venezuelan Health Ministry stopped regularly publishing epidemiological data around two years ago, and the Nicolas Maduro administration has remained largely silent on the country’s increasingly worrisome health situation.
These outbreaks come amid a multi-front crisis in Venezuela, with major shortages of medications and medical supplies (as well as of food and other necessities), among various other issues. Approximately 85 percent of all medications are currently unavailable in the country.
On May 14, Venezuela's Ministry of Health released official health statistics for the first time in nearly two years, confirming unofficial reports of a resurgence of diphtheria. In 2016, the government recorded a total of 324 cases of diphtheria, a disease that had until recently been eradicated in Venezuela for decades.
Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria, which primarily infects the throat and upper airways and produces a toxin affecting other organs. The illness has an acute onset and the main characteristics are sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck; the toxin may, in severe cases, cause myocarditis or peripheral neuropathy. The disease is spread through direct physical human contact or from breathing in the aerosolized secretions from coughs or sneezes of infected individuals. A vaccine exists for this disease, which can be fatal in approximately 10 percent of cases. Children are particularly vulnerable.
Individuals considering travel to Venezuela are advised to confirm vaccinations are up to date and to bring with them any medications they might need throughout the duration of their stay; travelers are similarly advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance, covering emergency evacuation. Individuals present in Venezuela are advised to seek immediate medical attention if experiencing any of the abovementioned symptoms.
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