Spanish media is reporting that a six-year-old infected with diphtheria died early this morning.
The boy, from the town of Olot in the region of Catlonia, had not been vaccinated against the disease, which had not been seen in Spain in nearly three decades. He had been undergoing treatment in the Intensive Care Unit of Barcelona's Vall d'Hebron Hospital for the past 25 days, but could not overcome the damage caused to his organs. Doctors had been treating the child with antibiotics and an antitoxin treatment intended to curb the most severe effects of the disease and he had recently been put on life support machines.
Spain's Department of Health has identified more than ten other cases of diphtheria among those who had contact with the deceased, including one adult and nine children. They were all immediately vaccinated, which prevented clinical symptoms of the disease from appearing. Health officials also went ahead and treated them all with antibiotics to eliminate any trace of the bacillus and prevent the disease from spreading. Two of these other victims have already been discharged from the hospital.
These were the first cases of diphtheria seen in in Spain since 1987. The infectious disease, which is caused by a bacteria, had been eradicated thanks to mass vaccination campaigns which began in 1945.
After the boy's infection was discovered, the Department of Health checked more than 200 people, among them 57 children who were with him at a camp a few days before developing symptoms.
Diphtheria affects the respiratory tract and produces a toxin which then enters the bloodstream, enabling it to affect other organs such as the kidneys, brain and heart. One possible complication is myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle. The nervous system can also be affected, resulting in temporary paralysis.