A life-threatening disease has made a comeback in twin cities. Cases of persons falling prey to the potentially fatal bacterial ailment diphtheria are on the rise. The baffling part is that 95 per cent the diphtheria cases reported from January 2009 are those of adults, who were inoculated during their childhood.

Medical authorities suspect three reasons for the incidence of diphtheria – waning potency of the vaccine; patient not taking the booster doses and other environmental factors. Last year, 300 cases of diphtheria were reported in different governments hospitals in the State capital.

Strangely, in January and February of this year, the number of diphtheria cases reported has already touched the 100 mark. All these cases have been reported from slum areas and a majority of the patients are from economically weaker sections.

Experts suggest strengthening the existing vaccination programme and spreading awareness among health care providers on the need to vaccinate adults also to prevent diphtheria. Usually infants are administered DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis) combination vaccine and booster doses are to be administered after the first and fifth years.

Authorities who studied the spurt in incidence of diphtheria found that 85 per cent of the positive patients did not take the booster doses. “Children who have completed 10 and 15 years of age have to be inoculated with Td (Tetanus and Diphtheria) vaccine again. We are conducting a survey to identify the high risk slums to ascertain the number of vaccine shots required,” says District Medical and Health Officer Ch. Jaya Kumari.

There is also a question why the potency of the vaccine is declining and does the vaccine programme itself needs tweaking?

“In cities like Hyderabad, public is exposed to hostile climate and disease causing agents regularly and there are chances of decline in vaccine potency.

Doctors should realise that they should prescribe Td vaccine to adults for every six years in India,” says Sharmila Asthana, a paediatrician, Apollo Hospitals.