Russia announces mass immunisation campaign

RUSSIAN health chiefs yesterday announced plans to vaccinate most of the population against diphtheria over the next two years because cases have nearly doubled this year.

At the same time the first case of diphtheria caught in the UK since 1985 has been recorded by the Public Health Laboratory Service.

Vadim Monisov, Russia's chief epidemologist, said at a Moscow press conference that 4,000 cases had been registered so far this year, the same number as for all of 1992. Of these, 106 were fatal compared with 127 for all of last year. He said that only two million of the 7.5 million adults in Moscow have been vaccinated and only 15 per cent of adults in the whole of Russia.

In Britain, the PHLS says in its latest weekly Communicable Disease Report that two teenage girls have caught diphtheria.

A 14-year-old contracted the serious toxic form of the disease, but the second case, involving an 18-year-old was the milder, non-toxic variety which produces a sore throat.

Dr Norman Begg, PHLS consultant in Public Health, said both girls had been immunised. 'The important point is that the 14-year-old had a mild illness because of this. Both of them recovered completely.'

He said that in the UK there has been an increase in the number of cases of the non-toxic type of diphtheria - from 10 in 1990 to 50 in 1992. But only 21 cases of the serious type of the disease between 1986 and 1992. These were associated with foreign travel.

Dr Begg said that 95 per cent of the British population was immunised against diphtheria. 'We are not seeing a resurgence of the toxic form of the disease. Cases are very rare.'

In Russia Mr Monisov's programme aims to vaccinate 90 per cent of children and 75 per cent of adults by 1995.

The Department of Health is advising holiday-makers to Russia and the Ukraine who were born before 1942 to be immunised. This is when the British vaccine was introduced. Those going there to work should have their immunisation boosted.

Dr Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, has told doctors that people born after 1942 who are simply travelling on holiday do not need a boost. No British holiday makers have caught diphtheria in Russia, he said.

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