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Peru detects first case of diphtheria virus after 20 years

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Peru has launched a national epidemiological alert after detecting its first case of diphtheria in 20 years, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

A five-year-old girl from Lima has been infected, authorities said.

She was vaccinated against diphtheria at birth but did not receive the follow-up vaccinations after two and six months that would have immunized her for 10 years.

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Therefore, “she is an unvaccinated girl,” said Deputy Health Minister Luis Suarez, who added that the last case dated back to 2000.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease that mainly affects the nose and throat but sometimes also the skin.

It produces “whitish plaques in the upper respiratory apparatus, high fever (and) pain when swallowing,” said Suarez.

“It can develop into a very serious respiratory problem with a mortality rate that can surpass 10 percent.”

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Three months ago the World Health Organization warned that the coronavirus pandemic has had a “devastating impact” on health care systems in Latin America and the Caribbean, where many health services have been overwhelmed and unable to care properly for people with other illnesses and problems.

Peru has registered close to 900,000 Covid-19 cases and 34,000 deaths, although its daily infection and death rates have been steadily decreasing over the last two months.

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