Jakarta (ANTARA News) - East Java Governor Soekarwo on October 7, 2011, declared an extraordinary situation (KLB) for diphtheria in all parts of the province where 352 diphtheria cases with 11 deaths have been reported over the past 10 months.

Head of the East Java Health Office Mudjib Afan said in Surabaya, recently, that a total of 333 children aged between two and 14 years old, have been infected with diphtheria in the province, up from 303 children last year.

"The number of deaths last year was 21 children, and this year is down to 11 children," Mudjib said as reported by Tempointeractive on October 10.

Following the diphtheria epidemic outbreak, the East Java administration has launched a diphtheria mass vaccination campaign beginning on October 10, 2011.

Some 40,000 vaccines have been made available in community health centers (puskesmas) and integrated health posts (posyandu) throughout East Java.

Diphtheria has infected children in 34 cities/districts, especially Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Pasuruan, Mojokerto, Bangkalan, Sampang, Sumenep, Pamekasan, Blitar, Gresik, and Banyuwangi, and only four districts are free from the disease, namely Ngawi, Pacitan, Trenggalek, and Magetan.

In Lumajang District, East Java Province, for instance, some 30 cases of suspected diphtheria were reported in the January-October period.

This year`s number of diphtheria cases increased two-fold from 15 cases last year, Wahyu Wulandari, the head of the Lumajang health office`s disease prevention and observation section, said in Lumajang on Friday (Oct 28).

"The Lumajang health office has been on alert of diphtheria since several months ago, even before the East Java government declared an extraordinary condition of diphtheria outbreak in the province, because the number of diphtheria patients in Lumajang has kept on rising," he said.

Paramedics in community health centers (Puskesmas) in the district responded quickly to patients suspected of having been infected with diphtheria, so the patients could get medical treatment as early as possible, he said.

"If there are children having diphtheria symptoms, such as sore throat, Puskesmas personnel must immediately take them to dr Hariyoto Hospital in Lumajang for observation," he said.

Diphtheria diagnose is done via a throat swab, where a small section of tissue is removed and then sent to a laboratory in Surabaya, the capital of East Java Province, for analysis.

"The results of several samples received by the Lumajang health office were negative. But we remain on alert and ready to dealt with the diphtheria outbreak which could easily infect children," he said.

"Diphtheria can be prevented by DPT immunization. I urge parents to take their children to nearby integrated health post centers (Posyandu) immediately to get immunization free of charge, in order to prevent diphtheria," he said.

Basic immunizations against diseases such as BCG, DPT, polio, measles, and hepatitis B, could protect babies so they will not easily get sick, he said.

The East Java administration has at its disposal funds amounting to Rp21 billion, including Rp13 billion from the central government, to fight diphtheria which has infected 328 and killed 11 children.

"Especially for diphtheria, the East Java administration has allocated extra funds amounting to Rp8 billion, and received from the central government Rp13 billion to tackle the disease, among other things to buy vaccines and for surveillance," Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih said recently, after closing a coordinating meeting on preparations for 2012 as the year of Routine Immunization Intensification and Extra Immunization Campaign against Measles and Polio 2011.

She expressed her concern over the diphtheria outbreak in East Java. Immunization for babies is crucial to prevent such an outbreak to recur, according to her.

The government has blamed parents` reluctance to get their children vaccinated for the recent diphtheria outbreak in East Java, with many religious communities in the province still questioning whether the anti diphtheritic vaccine is halal, or allowed according to Islam.

"Immunizing children with the DPT vaccine is the only way to protect them against diphtheria. But frankly speaking, I?m quite amazed by how so many people are refusing to give their newborns the three cycles of the DPT vaccines. Why?" the minister said.

Since Indonesia has conducted its first mass immunization program in 1956, the country is relatively safe from fatal disease outbreaks.

The health ministry`s director general of disease control and environmental health, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, said the mass immunization program is one of the priority programs of the health ministry as preventive measure and the government`s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in particular to reduce the children and maternal mortality rate.

Immunization in Indonesia covers BCG, DPT Hb, polio, measles, and Hepatitis B.

Caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, diphtheria is an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract which results in the formation of a thick coating across the throat preventing swallowing and in many cases, the ability to breathe.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease which is spread from one person to another via touching, coughing or sneezing. Sneezing or coughing causes droplets to be released into the air which can be inhaled very easily. It can be contracted through skin contact although this is much less common.

Another form of transmission is that of a `healthy person carrier`. This refers to a person who is harbouring the bacteria but has no signs of diphtheria.

This starts with a sore throat followed by coughing, raised temperature and a cold. If diphtheria is left untreated it will cause damage to the heart and nervous system which, in the worst case scenario, may lead to a heart attack.

So it is important that any cases of suspected diphtheria are treated sooner rather than later.

Diagnosing diphtheria at an early stage will prevent the risk of damage to the heart or nervous system. Treatment for this involves antibiotics and a specially developed medication to negate the effects of the diphtheria bacterium.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diphtheria affects people of all ages, but most often it strikes unimmunized children. In temperate climates, diphtheria tends to occur during the colder months. In 2000, some 30 000 cases and 3000 deaths of diphtheria were reported worldwide. (*)

Reporter: By Fardah
Editor: Kunto Wibisono
Copyright © ANTARA 2011