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Confirmed diphtheria outbreak at Pollsmoor Prison as inmate dies

Confirmed diphtheria outbreak at Pollsmoor Prison as inmate dies
Pollsmoor Prisson in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

A diphtheria outbreak has been declared at the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre in Cape Town following the death of a 19-year-old inmate.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla on Thursday declared a diphtheria outbreak at the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre in Cape Town.

The announcement follows the death on Sunday, 5 November of a 19-year-old male inmate who had tested positive for diphtheria on 2 November.

The Department of Health said public health measures had been implemented, including the careful tracing of contacts of inmates, Correctional Services staff, healthcare workers and emergency services personnel. 

“More tests were conducted with the 55 identified close contacts … and the results of eight inmates tested positive for diphtheria, two of them presenting with mild symptoms and the other six are asymptomatic. All patients, including the deceased, fall within the age group of 18 to 23 years,” said National Department of Health spokesperson Foster Mohale.

Contacts of the patients and the dead prisoner have been isolated from the rest of the prison to prevent the further spread of the disease. Two staff members who displayed symptoms consistent with diphtheria were receiving treatment while awaiting their laboratory test results.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It can be treated with antibiotics and antitoxin. 

Symptoms of the disease include a sore throat (with the formation of a thick, grey membrane on the tonsils and throat) and swollen glands at the front of the neck, according to the Department of Health.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Health Minister Phaahla calls for vigilance after two cases of contagious diphtheria confirmed in SA 

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), diphtheria is uncommon in South Africa. Between January 2008 and March 2015, only three laboratory-confirmed cases of respiratory diphtheria were reported, and one case in 2016.

The Western Cape Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak Team, in collaboration with the Department of Correctional Services, has initiated a vaccination campaign in the affected section of the prison to curb the outbreak. DM

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