News / Edmonton

Single case of diphtheria at Edmonton school highlights need for immunization: AHS

The student had been in contact with a small group of other students who are currently under observation, according to AHS

Chris Sikora talks to the media about the first case of diphtheria in Edmonton in 10 years.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Chris Sikora talks to the media about the first case of diphtheria in Edmonton in 10 years.

There is no risk to the general public from one confirmed case of diphtheria at Evansdale Elementary School, according to an Alberta Health Services spokesperson.

Carrie Rosa, spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools, said Evansdale Elementary School received a call from AHS confirming one of their students had cutaneous diphtheria on Friday.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that is rare in Canada and can cause severe illness in some populations and can be fatal.

The student had come in contact with a small group of students at their school. Rosa said the school has informed parents of the confirmed case and has taken precautions.

“We did have custodial staff complete a deep clean of classrooms yesterday,” she said.

AHS Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Chris Sikora, would not go into details of the case for privacy reasons but did say the students were offered immunization and are currently being monitored carefully.

Sikora said they had identified the “relevant context” for the disease, although could not say how the student got it. He did confirm that the student’s travel history was not helpful “in this particular circumstance”.

He said the disease was being managed appropriately as they had taken all precautions necessary to protect the individual and the people they were in contact with.

The disease is not common in Alberta.

“The last case we would have had of diphtheria would have been well over 10 years ago,” Sikora said.

He added this case highlights the need for immunization.

“We can come into contact with communicable diseases on a daily basis, through the course of our work, our play or general living. And immunization is a very effective strategy to help protect our loved ones from those diseases,” Sikora said.

He said although immunization is never a 100 per cent, it is the most effective tool available to protect against these types of diseases.

He would like to see immunization rates be higher than they currently are, although he was unsure about making it mandatory.

"I think the environment in which we have the parental choice is a good way," he said.

"We have made communication more accessible than ever and have a safe, highly effective, easily accessible program in the entire province to make that choice and to make that easy choice to have children immunized."

Sikora said the general procedure for people who have been in contact with someone carrying a disease would be to take swabs of those who are infected and keep them in isolation until results come back.

He said the bacteria that carries the disease is found on humans.

“There is unknown but percentage of individuals that carry this bacteria on their skin, but it is humans,” he said.

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