Diphtheria continues to spread among UK asylum seekers

There have been 57 cases reported so far this year

Migrants inside the Manston immigration centre in Thanet, Kent, England. PA
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Seven new cases of diphtheria were reported among asylum seekers in England last week, the UK Health Security Agency said.

Figures published on Tuesday show there have been 57 cases reported so far.

There were reports of new cases of diphtheria being found at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent.

The UKHSA said seven cases of diphtheria among asylum seekers were reported between November 28 and December 4.

In the previous week, the total was 50 after five cases were reported.

About 44 of the cases have been recorded in the south-east.

Fewer than five each were found in London, west midlands, south-west, north-east and the north-west, the latest report said.

No breakdown by county has been provided.

Migrants at immigration processing centre in Manston - in pictures

Last week UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told MPs asylum seekers with symptoms of diphtheria would be put into isolation, after the UKHSA said there had been an “increase” in the number of infections among those coming to the UK.

Mr Jenrick said migrants showing signs of the highly contagious disease would be separated for a “short period” at Manston or held in a “designated isolation centre” while they were treated.

Any asylum seekers who may have the infection but are already in hotels would be told to isolate in their rooms while they are treated.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman faced criticism about overcrowding and outbreaks of disease at Manston amid concerns a man held there may have died from a diphtheria infection.

The latest UKHSA data sets out how many cases were reported each month since the start of the year, with a weekly break down from October onwards.

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The figures show the first case was reported in February but no more were recorded until June.

Since then, more cases have been reported every month. The total number of cases hit double figures in October.

Hussein Ahmed, 31, died at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate on November 19 after he was held in Manston since crossing the Channel seven days earlier.

The Home Office initially said there was no evidence that he died from an infectious disease but a follow-up test for diphtheria was positive, indicating this may have been the cause of the illness.

An inquest into his death opened in Maidstone on Monday and was adjourned until May next year.

Ministers and health officials have insisted that the risk of the public getting diphtheria is very low and infections are rare.

The illness — which affects the nose, throat and sometimes skin — can be fatal if not treated quickly but antibiotics and other medicine are available.

Some public health experts raised concerns about the spread of the disease as migrants were moved to hotels.

"Whilst we continue to see diphtheria cases amongst asylum seekers, the risk of diphtheria to the wider public remains very low," said Gayatri Amirthalingam, of the UKHSA.

"This is due to high uptake of the diphtheria vaccine in this country, and because the infection is typically passed on through close, prolonged contact with a case.

“In order to limit the risk of diphtheria being passed on within asylum seeker settings, UKHSA continues to recommend that individuals arriving at reception centres, and who have moved on recently, are offered a diphtheria vaccine and preventive treatment.”

Updated: December 06, 2022, 10:36 PM