The numbers of people in the UK dying from the twin pandemics of diphtheria and measles is still rising, reaching record levels. The spike in death rates comes as outbreaks have now been declared in 53 regions and a further 71 deaths have been confirmed.
According to the Department of Health, 800 people were diagnosed with diphtheria in England in 2018, with 98 of these deaths. A decade ago the disease killed just 15 people in the UK.
In Wales, some 60 people have died, up 10% from the number of deaths recorded last year, and the numbers of patients testing positive for measles is also up – more than double the year before.
A health survey from the Doha-based Global Burden of Disease study released by the World Health Organisation showed that the diphtheria outbreak is contributing significantly to an overall rise in premature death rates. The report, which tracks the global burden of diseases, found that the overall death rates from sickness and injury had actually fallen by half since 1990 – a decline largely attributed to reductions in the dying rates of stroke, heart disease and cancer, combined with improvements in vaccine coverage.
The diphtheria outbreak was responsible for 22% of all deaths from childhood diseases, the most fatal of all causes.
Health experts have blamed most of the increase in deaths from childhood diseases on rising environmental pollution and the failure of authorities to protect the general population.
Anecdotal evidence from health departments points to an increase in childhood deaths from non-communicable diseases, which now account for more than half of all deaths, from childhood cancers, hyper-vigilance (tiredness) and sepsis.
A recent study led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that in 2013, 58% of deaths for children under five took place in India, 17% in Pakistan, 14% in Indonesia and 14% in China.
In a gloomy sign of the increasing number of deaths from infectious diseases, the WHO said in March it had recorded the highest ever number of new and reported HIV infections worldwide, with 62 million people infected in 2011.
Although HIV had become more common in recent years, and women around the world have been diagnosed with HIV for longer, infections among infants in less developed countries are the highest in decades.
Between 1997 and 2016, there were a total of 2.2 million drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis developed. That figure has been inflated by antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis previously called “superbug” tuberculosis, which was acquired from prisoners, public hospitals and nursing homes as well as healthcare workers. In fact, in 2015 there were a total of 1.9 million people admitted to hospital with strains of TB and resistance to previous drugs.
This is the third pandemic – a second after the one which hit in 1918, which claimed more than 20 million lives – to impact the UK. In 1919, there were two diphtheria deaths in Britain, and two typhoid deaths, after 18 deaths and 67 cases in 1924. The 1918 influenza epidemic claimed at least 30,000 lives, with many of the victims under the age of five,