Steps to ensure foreign workers are vaccinated

Health, Manpower ministries to review if improvements are needed after worker dies of diphtheria

The Health and Manpower ministries will review if improvements are needed to better ensure that foreign workers in Singapore are vaccinated against diseases such as diphtheria, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday.

The review follows the death of a 21-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker who developed fever and swelling of the neck - symptoms of diphtheria - on July 30, and died last Friday.

The ministry said it was alerted to the case last Thursday. It is the first local infection of the contagious bacterial disease here in 25 years.

At present, foreigners do not need to provide evidence of previous vaccination against the disease upon arrival in Singapore as diphtheria is included in the childhood vaccination schedule of most countries, said MOH.

The ministry stressed that most people here are vaccinated against the disease, or have already built an immunity to it, so the chances of coming down with diphtheria are low. "The disease is rare in Singapore and the threat of spread is low due to good vaccination coverage of the local population," said the MOH spokesman.

"As the (worker who died) had not travelled out of Singapore recently, he is likely to have been infected in Singapore. Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the infection."

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

MOH also said that the two individuals who were in close contact with the worker and had developed sore throats - a symptom of diphtheria - continue to be isolated in wards at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). MOH did not reveal the nationalities of the patients.

Both are in stable condition and have been given preventive medication and a booster diphtheria vaccine, along with the other 46 people identified for further checks. Two Singaporeans were among those treated. The respiratory samples of all 48 people have been taken for testing and the results are pending.

The worker, who lived in a dormitory in Yishun Avenue 7 and worked at Teban Gardens, developed a fever and swelling of the neck on July 30. He went to KTPH the next day, where he was immediately isolated and hospitalised, but died last Friday. A respiratory sample taken from him tested positive for the bacterium causing diphtheria.

Diphtheria is a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the mucous membranes, and could result in fatal heart and nerve damage. Treatment involves administering diphtheria antitoxin, as well as antibiotics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Steps to ensure foreign workers are vaccinated'. Print Edition | Subscribe