Diphtheria deaths in Malaysia and Vietnam too

Diphtheria is coming back with vengeance  in parts of Asia where it had been well controlled. Malaysia and Vietnam has reported several cases of Diphtheria in last two months along with Kerala state in south India. There has been 5 deaths in Malaysia, 3 in Vietnam and 2 in Kerala. Both in Kerala and Malaysia, adults some as old as 65, are among suspected cases.

All three areas had similarly good control of Diphtheria for several years now , with only a handful of cases yearly and no deaths. In Malaysia and Kerala, religion based superstitions about vaccinations was found to be a major driving factor for poor vaccination coverage and there by reemergence of the disease. In Vietnam too, the propagation of myths about vaccines has reduced its acceptance.

Image credit - Reuters

Image credit – Reuters

See these news reports from Malaysia.

Two children have died in Malaysia from diphtheria this month, apparently because their parents did not vaccinate them against the infectious disease, believing the jabs contained elements of pig DNA.

The deaths have triggered outrage, prompting the Health Ministry, medical experts and a state mufti to plead with parents not to believe in rumours.

Malaysian media reports say an “anti-vaccine movement” reportedly based in Kedah has spread doubts about the contents of the vaccine and about its necessity.

The latest development brings the total number of diphtheria cases nationwide to 15, five of which were fatal. Seven cases were reported at Kedah with one death; three in Malacca with one death, four in Sabah with three deaths; and one in Negri Sembilan. On diphtheria cases among adults, Dr Noor Hisham said the Corynebacterium diphtheria bacteria could infect both adult and children’s throats.

This is a report from Vietnam.

The health department in Binh Phuoc Province, located in southern Vietnam, announced on Wednesday that a diphtheria outbreak has claimed three lives, with 31 additional diphtheria-positive cases reported.
The reluctance of citizens to seek vaccination is a major factor behind the sudden diphtheria epidemic in the province, Doctor Nguyen Dong Thong, director of the provincial health department, said.
Two of the deceased, T.L., 12, Đ.T, 18, had been living in Thuan Phu Commune, while N.T.H, 24, was a resident of Thuan Loi Commune.
According to Dr. Thong, between June 24 and July 12, 34 patients, including the deceased, tested positive for diphtheria. The remaining 31 patients are receiving medical treatment in health centers in Binh Phuoc and Ho Chi Minh City, said Dr. Thong.

It seems in all the 3 areas, the success of a well implemented immunisation program itself is paving the way for vaccine skeptics. As the community at large forgets the horrors of killer diseases, they could be easily brain washed to believe vaccines are unnecessary and harmful.

Governments are in a damage control mode now. They are contemplating even legal measures to ensure everyone gets vaccinated. Let us hope there won’t be any more unnecessary vaccine preventable diphtheria deaths.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Small sample sizes to work with statistically, but I still have to wonder why Malaysia’s diphtheria cases would have a 33% mortality while Vietnam’s come in at less than 10%.

    Does Malaysia’s health network miss a lot of the less severe infections?

    • Arun says

      Yes, small sample size and these are only newspaper reports too. In Kerala 2 deaths in around 40 confirmed cases. Early presumptive antibiotic therapy can cure and there by result in missing the diagnosis.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Early presumptive antibiotic therapy …

    Uh-oh (I think). Does that mean what it sounds like – wholesale creation of conditions perfect for evolving antibiotic-resistant strains?

    • Arun says

      Pierce, it can be called like that?. But we in India indulge in presumptive treatment a lot, even for malaria to cut costs.

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