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First diphtheria outbreak in Spain after nearly 30 years

There has been a confirmed case of diphtheria in Spain, the first in 28 years, despite very high vaccination coverage in the country.

The World Health Organization confirmed that there is a case in Spain. A six-year-old child, who lived near Girona, was not previously immunised, and is being treated at a hospital in Barcelona, where his condition is “serious”.

More than 95% of the country has been vaccinated against diphtheria, and Spain's ministry of health confirmed that the last recorded case of diphtheria dated from 1986.

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection, usually spread through coughing or sneezing. Once in the respiratory system, the bacteria that cause diphtheria produce a poison (toxin) that can cause weakness, a sore throat, a fever and swollen glands in the neck. Even with treatment, the disease can lead to serious complications, including death in approximately 10% of cases.

Large outbreaks of diphtheria in the European region occurred in the 1990s, in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is currently in contact with the Spanish Ministry of Health and the national immunisation programme and providing support, as required.