The first case since 2001 in NSW was confirmed in January 2018 and the second was confirmed on August 6.
The first case since 2001 in NSW was confirmed in January 2018 and the second was confirmed on August 6. Trevor Veale

Government accused of diphtheria cover-up on the coast

THE Berejiklian Government has been accused of failing the community on public health and vaccinations with the confirmation of a second case this year of the potentially fatal disease of diphtheria.

They were the first cases reported in NSW since 2001.

Both cases were reported on the North Coast.

The first case since 2001 in NSW was confirmed in January 2018 and the second was confirmed on August 6.

Diphtheria is a rare condition and is an officially notifiable disease.

It is a bacterial infection, most often spread in airborne droplets by coughing or sneezing. Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics.

"We are now seeing diseases in NSW which we thought were eradicated due to vaccinations," NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said.

"This is an absolute disgrace. These cases should be setting off the alarm bells in the corridors of the NSW Government.  

The Berejiklian Government is failing the community on vaccinations and vaccination rates.

"Diphtheria can be fatal, but it is a preventable disease. It used to be called the `forgotten disease' because it was significantly reduced in Europe, North America and Australia," Mr Secord said. 

Mr Secord said increasing the availability of vaccinations - especially in pharmacies - would reduce the incidence of long forgotten diseases like diphtheria. 

On July 21, NSW Labor leader Luke Foley and Mr Secord announced a Foley Labor Government would increase the range of vaccinations available through pharmacies - further protecting the community. This included diphtheria. 

Under the plan NSW pharmacies will be able to provide vaccinations for:

  • the dTpa vaccine - diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis); and
  • the MMR vaccine - measles, mumps and rubella.

 This will bring NSW into line with South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.  

It is in addition to the current regime where qualified pharmacies are able to provide influenza vaccinations. 

NSW has been one of the most conservative jurisdictions in Australia on expanding vaccinations into pharmacies.  

Overall Australia lags behind a number of comparable nations in regard to pharmacy-led vaccinations including the United States and the United Kingdom, which go as far as undertaking travel vaccinations like cholera, hepatitis, polio, typhoid and encephalitis. 

It would complement the current vaccination programs, reaching people who do not normally have vaccinations.  


Diphtheria is caused by toxin-producing strains of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria and Corynebacterium ulcerans, which mostly affects the throat and airway.

It causes grey and white patches on the tonsils that can form a membrane and make it difficult to breathe.

This respiratory form of the infection can also cause massive swelling of the neck, known as "bull neck".

Heart, kidney and neurological complications can follow.

Diphtheria commonly spreads from person to person through spitting and coughing. A less serious form is skin sores, but the infection can also spread through these painful skin lesions.