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Diphtheria Outbreak Confirmed in the Dominican Republic

June 8, 2021 • 8:54 pm CDT
(Vax Before Travel)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 1 Travel Alert on June 3, 2021, regarding a diphtheria outbreak in the Dominican Republic.

In recent years, vaccination against diphtheria in the Dominican Republic has declined, and health officials there are now reporting cases of the disease among children throughout the country. Anyone who is unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated against diphtheria is at risk of getting sick when visiting the Dominican Republic.

In 2021, between epidemiological week #1 and #15, two countries have reported confirmed cases of diphtheria on the island of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic with 12 confirmed cases including 9 deaths, and Haiti with 11 confirmed cases including 2 deaths.

Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that make toxins (poison). Infection can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, kidney failure, paralysis, and even death, says the CDC. Even with proper treatment, about 10% of people with respiratory diphtheria will die. Without treatment, up to half of the patients can die from the disease.

The CDC recommends diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination for all travelers.

The DTaP is only for children younger than 7 years old, while the Tdap vaccine is only for older people.

Because of age or health conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines or wait before getting them. Ask your healthcare professional for more information, says the CDC.

The Dominican Republic is the second-largest and most diverse Caribbean country, home to over 10 million people. Situated just two hours south of Miami, the Dominican Republic is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south, and nearly 1,000 miles of coastline.

Local airports and other ports of entry will perform a breath test on about 15% of arriving travelers and all those who present symptoms upon arrival. Passengers under the age of five and crew members are exempt from this procedure. Passengers who present a COVID-19 vaccination card and/or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival in the Dominican Republic will be exempted from the random test. 

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