Toddler dies of diphtheria in Antwerp

A 3-year-old girl succumbed in Antwerp's University Hospital (UZA) after having caught diphtheria. The news was announced by the Health and Care Agency yesterday. The toddler died as it took too long to find a counter-poison.

Diphtheria is rarely seen in Flanders, since all babies and toddlers are being vaccinated against the disease. However, it's a very contagious infection, which starts with a sore throat, but which also causes bacteria to produce a kind of toxins. These toxins can next cause damage to your heart, brain, or nervous system, which can eventually cause a patient's death. 

Some people carry the bacteria without having the symptoms. The Health Agency underlines that vaccinated children can carry the bacteria, but without suffering from it. There is no danger for them, but they can spread the bacteria to other persons who may not be vaccinated.

Doctors lost precious time in searching the available counter-poison

The child's death came as a shock, as diphtheria is hardly seen in developed countries, let alone that someone dies of it. There is in fact a medicine against diphtheria, but as the disease is almost eradicated, this medicine was not immediately available. Doctors lost precious time in looking for the right medicine, a kind of counter-poison.

Erica Vlieghe of the Antwerp Institute for Tropical Medicine told the VRT that "in Belgium, nearly every child is being vaccinated. (...) If someone would be so unlucky to catch the disease, the treatment is two-fold: antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and a counter-poison against the toxins. The latter has to be administered as soon as possible in serious cases, and this is where things went wrong here."

The counter-poison has become very hard to find, in Belgium as well as other developed countries. This also goes for other diseases that have almost been eradicated.