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Parents of diphtheria boy 'feel terrible guilt'

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Diphtheria was wiped out in Spain in 1986 thanks to a vaccination programme. Photo: Sanofi Pasteur / Flickr
15:55 CEST+02:00
The parents of a child who this week became the first recorded case of diphtheria in Spain for three decades have said they feel terrible about taking the decision not to vaccinate.

The mother and father of the six-year-old who is fighting for his life at the Intensive Care Unit of Barcelona's Vall de Hebron hospital are “destroyed and feel cheated” by the anti-vaccination movement that convinced them not to immunize their son.

Antoni Mateu, Catalonia's regional secretary for public health said he had met the parents of the child and they had expressed their regret over their lapse of judgement.

"They are a lovely couple and both feel a terrible sense of guilt," he told a press conference on Friday.

He stressed that no action was planned against the parents, whose names have not been made public, either for failing to vaccinate their child or to hold them accountable for the cost of the treatment or expense of containing the infection.

However, he pledged to pursue offending anti-vaccination platforms who "spread lies and cause confusion" as they persuade people against the state-recommended immunization programme.

Authorities are currently working to prevent the spread of the childhood infection, identifying those who may be at risk after coming in contact with the child.

Electron microscope image of the bacterium that causes diphtheria. Photo: Sanofi Pasteur / Flickr

Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium corynebacterium diphtheriae that usually affects young children and the elderly. 

It is spread through the respiratory tract via coughing and sneezing and has a mortality rate of one in ten.

The childhood illness was eradicated in Spain almost 30 years ago thanks to routine vaccination programmes

The boy from the town of Olot, near Girona, first showed symptoms of the illness on May 25th. It was reported that he had just spent several days at a school camp, but no further cases have yet been detected.

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The boy was said to be "responding well to treatment" but was still "in a serious condition" according to a spokesman at the hospital.

It is the first recorded case since 1986 when the childhood illness was completely eradicated in Spain thanks to a systematic vaccination programme.

The case has provoked furious debate in Spain over whether parents should be legally obliged to vaccinate their children.

It was widely reported that the parents of the 6-year-old suffering from diphtheria had opted not to vaccinate him, part of a small but growing minority of parents against immunization because of their concerns about side effects of vaccines.

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