Bangladeshi construction worker, 21, dies from diphtheria in first local case in 25 years

Simpang Lodge 2 is one of the two workers’ dormitories located on Yishun Avenue 7. It is unknown which one the worker who died from diphtheria stayed in. The 48 contacts who worked directly or stayed close to the worker were given preventive medica
Simpang Lodge 2 is one of the two workers’ dormitories located on Yishun Avenue 7. It is unknown which one the worker who died from diphtheria stayed in. The 48 contacts who worked directly or stayed close to the worker were given preventive medication and a booster diphtheria vaccine, said MOH.ST PHOTO LIM MIN ZHANG

SINGAPORE - A 21-year-old construction worker from Bangladesh has died from the contagious bacterial disease of diphtheria, in the first confirmed case in Singapore in 25 years.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement on Saturday (Aug 8) that the patient had developed fever and swelling of the neck on July 30.

On Tuesday (Aug 1), he sought medical treatment at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he was immediately isolated and hospitalised.

He died three days later on Friday (Aug 4). His respiratory sample was tested positive for toxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheria, which causes the disease.

"As he had not travelled out of Singapore recently, he was likely to have been infected in Singapore," said the ministry in its statement.

The last local case of diphtheria was reported in 1992, while the last imported case was in 1996.

The respiratory disease is preventable by vaccine, and the risk of it spreading here is low. Vaccination against diphtheria has been made compulsory by law for children under the National Childhood Immunisation Programme since 1962.

About 96 to 98 per cent of Singaporean children aged two years old are vaccinated against the disease.

The ministry also added that it is screening the patient's close contacts, including those who lived in the same dormitory and worked in the same workplace.

Among the 48 people who have been identified for "further assessment", two "close contacts" have developed sore throat since Thursday (Aug 3). They are currently under isolation at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

"All 48 contacts have been given preventive medication and a booster diphtheria vaccine, and their respiratory samples have been taken to testing," said the ministry.

Diphtheria is transmitted from person to person via the respiratory route through close contact with an affected person. Symptoms include fever or chills, sore throat, swelling of the neck, and nasal discharge.

The disease can cause infection of the airway, which may lead to breathing difficulties and death. It is fatal in five to 10 per cent of cases, with a higher fatality rate among young children.

The best way to prevent diphtheria is to get vaccinated, which reduces the mortality and morbidity of the disease "dramatically", said the ministry.