Man dies from extremely rare infection

A YOUNG Queensland man has died after contracting diphtheria - a highly contagious illness that rarely occurs in Australia.

The man, 27, from Cairns, was flown to the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane on January 24.

Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service confirmed on Thursday the man had died.

Health officials last month were at a loss as to how the man contracted the contagious and potentially life-threatening illness.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the man hadn't done any recent international travel.

It is understood he wasn't vaccinated against diphtheria, and health officials have stressed the importance of being immunised.

Brisbane mothers line up to have their children immunised against diphtheria in 1941.
Brisbane mothers line up to have their children immunised against diphtheria in 1941.

Diphtheria is a contagious and potentially life-threatening infection caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria.

There are four different types of diphtheria:

• classical respiratory diphtheria

• laryngeal diphtheria

• nasal diphtheria and

• cutaneous diphtheria (skin lesions).

It is not known what type the Queensland patient is suffering from.

Symptoms usually begin two to five days after exposure to the bacteria but sometimes appear up to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms will depend on the type of diphtheria infection. Experts say symptoms range from sore throats and mucus, to ulcers on limbs. Diphtheria results primarily in swelling in the nose, throat and windpipe, which can cause breathing difficulties.

It is spread by direct contact with an infected person, or through contaminated objects.

The Department of Health rushed to find locals that may have come into contact with the man since he contracted the illness.


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