Several asylum seekers have contracted pharyngeal diphtheria at an asylum seekers' center - the first known cases in Switzerland in almost 40 years.
At least eight people living in a Bern asylum center contracted the disease but did not have respiratory problems. The infected group of people has been isolated, and more than 170 other asylum seekers, mostly unaccompanied minors, are in quarantine at the center. All residents have since been vaccinated against diphtheria.
Diphtheria is caused by bacteria that are spread worldwide. The pathogen produces a powerful toxin that can permanently damage organs such as the heart and liver. There are two types of the disease: respiratory and cutaneous (skin) diphtheria. The pathogen primarily affects the upper respiratory tract and produces a toxin that can lead to dangerous complications and long-term effects. Person-to-person transmission occurs through droplet infection (close physical contact, coughing, sneezing). It originates from a sick person or from someone who carries the bacterium without symptoms. Less commonly, infection occurs through contaminated objects or, in the case of cutaneous diphtheria, through direct contact. Effective vaccination protects against the disease.
There is no increased risk for the general population. Vaccination should be given to children at 2, 4, and 12 months of age and at ages 4 to 7 and 11 to 15 years. Additional booster vaccinations are recommended at ages 25, 45, and 65 years (i.e., every 20 years) and every 10 years thereafter.