Diphtheria infections rise in Britain, says UK health agency, citing migrant cases

People wait to board a bus at the migrant processing centre in Manston
People wait to board a bus at the migrant processing centre in Manston, Britain, November 7, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The number of diphtheria cases in England has risen this year, health officials said on Monday, citing dozens of cases found among asylum seekers arriving into the country, but adding that the risk of infection to the wider public remained very low.

Data released by the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there were around 50 cases among asylum seekers who arrived in England between Jan. 1 and Nov. 25, compared with an average of 2 to 11 cases in the country per year over the last decade.

Diphtheria is an infectious disease that primarily affects the upper respiratory tract. It is very rare in England due to routine immunisation introduced in 1942.

The British government has come under pressure over poor living conditions and overcrowding at a migrant holding facility at Manston in Kent, and faced threats of legal action from rights groups and a public sector workers' union.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick in a statement to parliament after the publication of the data said there were protocols in place to prevent the spread of the infection, but that the government now needed to be vigilant.

"From today no one presenting with symptoms will progress into the asylum accommodation system,” he said. They would instead either remain in isolation at the processing center or at a designated isolation center and would also be offered vaccination, he said.

Reporting by Farouq Suleiman; Editing by William James and Mark Porter

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