Expats in Thailand warned to watch out for diphtheria

Published:  21 Aug at 6 PM
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Almost totally eradicated in most world countries due to inoculations, diphtheria is still a risk for expats and visitors to Thailand.

The potentially deadly disease is caused by a bacterial infection which attacks the nose, throat and windpipe, causing severe inflammation, difficulty swallowing and problems breathing. It’s spread through the air, but can also infect its victim through a cut or skin abrasion. Diphtheria’s mortality rate is between five and 10 per cent of those who become infected, but it’s rare nowadays in first-world countries with developed vaccination programmes.

One young Aussie holidaymaker enjoying the time of his life at a Thai full moon party found out about diphtheria the hard way due to a careless step on a piece of broken glass, which then became embedded in his foot. He didn’t attempt to remove the shard until five days later, describing the wound as just a harmless scratch, even although the site of the wound grew larger as the days passed. When he arrived back home in Australia, his father took one look at the, by then seriously enlarged, wound and told him to see a doctor.

His test results came back the next day, confirming he’d been infected with the bacterial disease although, fortunately, he’d not developed its deadly symptoms. Five injections and a large tube of antibiotic cream did the job, but he was left with a thumb-sized scar where a massive hole in his flesh had been. The young Aussie had been lucky in avoiding any symptoms, even although he wasn’t cleared from the infection until six full weeks had passed.

Perhaps his immune system was up to the job of stopping the infection from developing into its full, life-threatening form, but a young Brisbane-based traveller wasn’t so lucky – she died after catching it from a friend who’d vacationed overseas. Diphtheria infects a good number of Thais every year, causing protracted stays in hospital and several deaths every year. Expats are especially at risk as, even if they’re permanent residents, most are not aware the disease is still a serious threat in Thailand.
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