Health officials are concerned that the diphtheria outbreaks in Laos can spread to Vietnam, saying remote areas along the border where vaccination coverage rates are not high are particularly vulnerable.
A statement from the Preventive Health Department at the health ministry said Laos has reported diphtheria outbreaks at six out of 17 cities and provinces, with 588 infections including 11 deaths between June and October.
It said the disease may spread to Vietnam’s border areas and then to larger cities.
Diphtheria killed at least six people at a poor mountainous village in Quang Nam Province, which borders Laos, in May and July. Those were the first fatalities from the bacterial disease reported in the country in years.
The bacterial disease is usually spread between people by direct contact or through the air. Some patients might only suffer sore throat and fever, but in severe cases, the disease can cause kidney and bleeding problems and inflammation of nerves which can lead to paralysis.
Vu Ngoc Long, deputy head of the Contagious Diseases Control Division at the health ministry, told Saigon Times Online that many people at the border areas have not been vaccinated.
“It’s a big concern as it will cause high risks of the disease spreading.”
Long said that after the cases in Quang Nam were reported, health officials have administered vaccinations on nearly 900 people in the area.
Around 90 percent of children in Vietnam are immunized against diphtheria and the country has basically managed to contain the disease for years.
But Long said there can still be outbreaks if some people are not vaccinated.