Diphtheria outbreak in migrant center puts Switzerland on alert. Disease returns to the country almost 40 years later

Several people were infected with diphtheria in a center for migrants in Switzerland, these being the first known cases of bacterial infection in the country in almost 40 years, advances ‘Swissinfo’.

At least eight people living at this centre, located in the capital, Bern, have contracted the disease but have not shown any breathing difficulties, a spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration said on Tuesday.

The group of infected people has been placed in isolation and more than 170 other migrants, namely unaccompanied minors, are in quarantine at the centre.

Diphtheria is rarely seen in Western Europe, where children have been vaccinated for decades against the highly contagious infection of the nose and throat.

However, the disease is still common in developing countries, according to experts. The last known case of the infectious disease in Switzerland was recorded in 1983, writes the Federal Department of Public Health.

Everything you should know about the disease

“Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae”, which “affects mainly the throat and upper airways, with lesions often located in the tonsils, larynx and nose” and “produces a toxin that affects other organs”, explains the Directorate-General for Health (DGS), on its website.

Regarding symptoms, diphtheria causes mild fever, sore throat and lack of appetite. “The most serious complications include: airway obstruction; heart and kidney failure; paralysis of swallowing muscles and pneumonia”.

The disease “is transmitted from person to person through droplets of saliva transmitted by sneezing or coughing”, explains the DGS, adding that there is a vaccine against diphtheria.

“The National Vaccination Plan (PNV) includes a vaccine that must be administered at 2, 4, 6, 18 months and 5, 10, 25, 45, 65 years and after every 10 years. Pregnant women should be vaccinated with each pregnancy”, he points out.

With regard to the period of contagion, this “is, on average, up to two weeks after the onset of symptoms”, since “the incubation period of diphtheria is, on average, from 1 to 6 days, and may be longer”.