Rare illness re-emerges overseas

Unvaccinated Spanish child contracts first case of diphtheria in three decades

Spanish health officials recently confirmed the country's first documented case of diphtheria since 1986. According to Time magazine, the parents of the 6-year-old boy who contracted the infection had opted out of vaccinating him. He is in intensive care.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that typically afflicts those under 5 years old and over 60, causing inflammation of nerves, complications due to low blood platelets, abnormal heart rate and possibly paralysis. Spain suffered several epidemics of diphtheria in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the condition is now rare, as is the antitoxin. (The Russian ambassador to Spain reportedly flew the antitoxin from Moscow to Barcelona.) One out of every 10 patients dies from early complications of diphtheria.

Health officials in Catalonia, where the boy is from, conducted cheek swabs on 57 other children. They found the infection in eight of them, but they were vaccinated and show no symptoms.