Cape Town - A young prisoner has died and eight others are in isolation at Pollsmoor Prison following a diphtheria outbreak.
Two staff members are awaiting laboratory results while being treated for the bacterial nose and throat disease.
The Department of Correctional Services confirmed the Medium A section of the prison is where the outbreak began and is an area of concern where visitation will be affected.
Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla said the prisoner, a 19-year-old man, presented symptoms on October 28 and was referred to a local hospital for medical care. He died on Sunday.
The Cape Argus approached the National Prosecuting Authority and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services to establish how prisoners attending court cases were affected but has yet to receive a response.
Department of Health spokesperson Foster Mohale said laboratory results had confirmed the disease.
It has yet to be determined how the prisoner was infected.
“Throat swabs were collected the same day for culture laboratory testing and the results came back positive five days later on November 2,” said Mohale. Unfortunately, his health continued to deteriorate until he regrettably passed away.”
DCS national spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said they were working closely with the outbreak teams but did not comment on whether prisoners attending court were affected.
“Containment at this stage is key and the facility is managing movement of inmates and officials at Medium A, where diphtheria has been detected.
“The department is working closely with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) in managing a possible outbreak.
“This development will affect visits at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre Medium A in an effort to contain any further spread of diphtheria.”
Mohale explained that an investigation began to trace infection and that public health measures were taken to place the outbreak under control.
This included the contact tracing of inmates, correctional services staff, consulting healthcare workers and emergency services personnel.
Mohale revealed that more tests were conducted with the 55 identified close contacts as part of case investigation and that parts of the prison were in isolation.
Eight inmates tested positive for diphtheria, two of whom are presenting mild symptoms and the other six are asymptomatic.
“All patients including the deceased fall within the age group of 18 to 23 years old,” he explained. “Immediate contacts of the patients and the deceased have been put in isolation from the rest of the correctional centre.
“Two staff members displayed symptoms compatible with diphtheria and have received treatment while waiting for their laboratory test results.
“The Western Cape Department of Health Disease Outbreak Team working together with the Department of Correctional Services has embarked on a vaccination campaign in the affected section of the correctional centre.”
Two laboratory-confirmed cases of diphtheria were recorded earlier in the year from an adult in KwaZulu-Natal and a 3-year-old in the Western Cape.
Diphtheria is an uncommon but vaccine-preventable serious infection caused by a toxin-producing bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheria.
The toxin may lead to difficulty in breathing, heart rhythm problems, and even death.
The bacteria spreads from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing.
Symptoms include a sore throat (with the formation of a membrane on the tonsil and throat), and swollen glands in the front of the neck.
Mohale added that close contacts of known cases are at increased risk of infection and that vaccinations were primary in combating it.
“Routine diphtheria vaccination is part of the childhood vaccine programme and parents are encouraged to get their children vaccinated,” he said.