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28 November 2023 Media Release: Environmental Health Practitioners educate inmates at Uniondale Correctional Service facility about Diphtheria (Witseerkeel)

Media Release: Environmental Health Practitioners educate inmates at Uniondale Correctional Service facility about Diphtheria (Witseerkeel)

For immediate release
28 November 2023

On 21 November 2023, Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) from the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Municipal Health Services serving the Outeniqua region, conducted Health and Hygiene education at the Uniondale Correctional Services facility.

Approximately sixty-eight (68) inmates and 3 staff members of the Uniondale Correctional Services were made aware of what  (Witseerkeel) is and how the bacterial disease is transmitted from one person to another. More topics that were covered include the signs and symptoms, as well as how the disease is treated.

Environmental Health Practitioner at Garden Route District Municipality, Janine Koopman (left), with Staff (middle) and the Acting Head of the Uniondale Correctional Services facility, Mr Siebert van Rensburg (right), soon after the session.

During an interview with the Acting Head of the Uniondale Correctional Services, Mr Siebert van Rensburg, it was established that there are currently no existing cases of Diphtheria at the facility.  It was also confirmed that a representative from the Western Cape Department of Health conducts screening tests with every new inmate before admission to the facility. Although family members are allowed to have contact visits with inmates, they are screened prior to these visits and are restricted from entering the facilities should they show any signs and symptoms of communicable diseases.

The facility is utilising the same system that were implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, inmates are therefore also not allowed to attend funerals of family members who passed away due to a communicable disease.

Continuous hand and hygiene sessions will be conducted at similar facilities within the Garden Route district by EHPs from the GRDM.

Did you know?

Diphtheria, also known as “Witseerkeel” is a bacterial disease caused by infection. It is a vaccine-preventable disease, however a drop in vaccine coverage could potentially lead to increased numbers of cases. Diphtheria is preventable by vaccination given at 6, 10, 14 weeks, with booster doses given at 18 months, 6 years, and 12 years of age. It usually affects:

  • The upper respiratory tract mucosa.
  • The skin, and rarely other sites (including the eyes, ears or genitals).

It can cause local tissue damage (with inflammation, ulceration, oedema and a pseudo membrane/ grey, thick layer inside throat and mouth) and can be absorbed into the bloodstream (affecting the heart, nervous system or kidneys).

What are the signs and symptoms of Diphtheria (Witseerkeel)?

Signs and symptoms start to show after 2- 5 days from becoming infected. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Mildly painful tonsillitis/ pharyngitis.
  • A thick, grey membrane covering the throat and tonsils.
  • A sore throat and hoarseness.
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in the neck.
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Tiredness.

Although some infected people may not show any signs or symptoms, they can still transmit the disease.

How is Diphtheria (Witseerkeel) transmitted?

  • Via ingestion of large respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing.
  • Direct contact with an infected person through skin lesions or intercourse with an infected person.
  • Touching surfaces that are contaminated with the bacteria.