Diphtheria, pertussis are vaccine-preventable, says expert

Low awareness of vaccination had led to the resurgence of infectious diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis, say researchers.

The recent outbreak of diphtheria in the State is due to a fall in herd immunity and not administering the mandatory booster vaccine dose to children, said Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organisation. “Parents are not having their children vaccinated. It is a global phenomenon,” she said.

When recently older children were diagnosed with diphtheria it came to be known that parents had invariably neglected to ensure booster dose of vaccine against the infection. Booster doses are given when the child is 18 months old and then at the age of five years.

On the sidelines of the commissioning of a research laboratory at the Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital (KKCTH) in the city on Monday, Dr. Soumya said misinformation about the importance of vaccination has led to the resurgence of these infectious diseases across the world. “We have to make sure that our immunisation rates remain high and we are able to give at least essential vaccines for our children,” she added.

Digital de-addiction

Doctors had to prepare themselves to address new health issues such as addiction to social media, video games besides other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancers. Some hospitals in India had already established digital de-addiction clinics, she noted.

Balaji Veeraraghavan, microbologist from Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore, is currently studying the prevalence of pertussis among the population in South India. The study includes collecting paired serum samples (blood from new mothers and cord blood from the newborns) to study if the baby has developed antibodies for pertussis. The multi-centric study includes the KKCTH in Chennai, CMC, Vellore, and St. John’s hospital.

The aim of the study is to enable the framing of a policy about vaccinating women for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis during pregnancy. Currently only tetanus and diphtheria vaccines are administered. The pertussis vaccination is a norm in developed countries but is yet to be made a policy in India, Mr. Veeraraghavan said. The ‘cocoon vaccination’ method helps the child develop antibodies and prevent pertussis.

“If the boosters are not given you can expect the individual to lose their immunity by the age of 10. By 12, the immunity is completely lost and adolescents catch the disease,” he explained. India accounte for almost 85%-90% of diphtheria cases in the world, Dr. Balaji added.

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