Parents urged to ensure children are vaccinated after cases of diphtheria in Lothians

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Parents have been urged to ensure children are immunised after two cases of potentially deadly diphtheria were confirmed in the Lothians.

Scotland's public health minister, Joe FitzPatrick said it was vital that children were vaccinated to ensure protection against contagious diseases like diphtheria, but said the "likelihood of any additional cases was very small".

Scottish Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne raised the issue of two cases of diptheria in the Lothians with the public health minister.

Scottish Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne raised the issue of two cases of diptheria in the Lothians with the public health minister.

Asked in Holyrood how the government had responded to two reports of the infection by NHS Lothian, Mr FitzPatrick confirmed the cases were related and both patients had recently returned from abroad.

He added: "All close contacts of the patients have been identified, contacted and followed up in line with national agreed guidelines. The likelihood of any additional cases is very small as most people are protected by immunisation given in childhood. In Lothian 98 per cent of children are vaccinated against diphtheria by the age of 24 months.

"The best way to avoid diphtheria when travelling is to be fully vaccinated against it and we'd encourage anyone travelling abroad to visit the Fit For Travel website where they can access information on how to stay safe and healthy abroad as well as destination specific health advice."

READ MORE: Two patients suffering from diphtheria in Edinburgh hospital

Scottish Tory MSP, Michelle Ballantyne, who raised the issue in Holyrood, said her thoughts were "with the two patients who have caught this dreadfully highly contagious bacterial infection" and she thanked the NHS staff "for their quick response in dealing with it".

She added: "The Cabinet Secretary highlighted the fact that it's really important that we get our children vaccinated when they are young and follow the schedules that are put in place, but also when travelling we do go and seek advice and I hope that across the country people should check their vaccinations are up to date, especially as things like diphtheria need a ten year booster and they should go and check if unsure."

Mr FitzPatrick added: "It's a good opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of vaccination both in childhood and when travelling and I'd recommend the Fit for Travel website or to speak to a GP about what vaccinations they need."

Since 2015, there have only been five other reported cases of diphtheria in Scotland. It is a highly contagious and potentially fatal infection that can affect the nose and throat, and sometimes the skin and which can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure and paralysis.

The infection is spread by coughs and sneezes, or by sharing items such as cups, cutlery, clothes or bedding with an infected person.

The disease has been almost eradicated by vaccination, but remains a problem in parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, Russia, Central and South East Asia where vaccine coverage is low.