As of June 5, there have been 86 diphtheria cases and two fatalities so far this year throughout Venezuela, according to the Bulletin of the International Epidemiological Center.
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 malaria epidemic and 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.
These outbreaks come amid a multi-front crisis in Venezuela, with major shortages of medications and medical supplies (as well as food and other necessities), among various other issues. Approximately 85 percent of all medications are currently unavailable, including artemisinin derivatives, used to treat P. falciparum cases. Malaria was officially eradicated in the country some 50 years ago and cases were relatively rare prior to the 2015 outbreak. Diphtheria's resurgence in the country comes after a roughly 25-year absence.
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.
To minimize the risk of contracting malaria or the many other mosquito-borne diseases present in Venezuela, use insect repellent, wear covering clothing, and sleep under mosquito netting or in an air conditioned room. If you develop a high fever during or after travel in areas affected by malaria, seek immediate medical attention.
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