3 carriers identified after confirmed case of diphtheria at Edmonton school

Public health officials investigating a confirmed case of diphtheria at an Edmonton elementary school have identified three other people as carriers of the bacteria that causes the disease.

Alberta Health Services is monitoring and providing treatment for a “small group of individuals” who may have had close contact with the diphtheria patient and the carriers, AHS said in a media statement Thursday.

People who have been fully immunized, or immunized for their age, can become carriers when they come into contact with the bacteria that causes diphtheria. They often don’t show symptoms.

“For their protection and that of those around them, they receive the same treatment and are subject to the same isolation protocols as someone who is identified as symptomatic,” AHS said.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection causing inflammation in the upper respiratory tract that can lead to heart and neurological problems. It is spread through respiratory secretions and by direct contact skin contact.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, loss of appetite and feeling unwell. Severe disease can cause extreme neck swelling. Life threatening complications include upper airway obstruction.

Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health with the Edmonton zone, and Darrel Robertson, superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools, will speak to reporters Thursday afternoon.

AHS officials haven’t identified the school but parents of students at Evansdale School got a letter last Friday alerting them to a confirmed case of diphtheria.

AHS said it was notified of the diphtheria case that same day, and began follow-up protocols, which include treatment and isolating the patient to prevent further spread of illness.

Public health staff also reached out to close contacts for testing and other necessary measures.

In the media statement, AHS thanked Edmonton Public Schools for help and support “during what’s been a difficult time for one of its schools, students and families.”

AHS staff are working with the school to ensure that all necessary cleaning and disinfection protocols are in place.

The diphtheria vaccine is offered without charge in Alberta through the immunization program.

The latest case is at least the third in Alberta in the past three years. An Evansdale School student was also diagnosed in 2017.

There were 17 cases reported across Canada between 1996 and 2016, an average of less than one case per year.

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