Thousands of asylum seekers are to be vaccinated against a potentially deadly disease after cases were reported in a detention centre in England.
The disease — diptheria — is caused by bacteria and can be passed from person to person via infected respiratory droplets or contact with infected wounds. Depending on where the infection is present, it can lead to problems with breathing, weakness and fever, and damage certain organs. It may also affect the skin.
It is typically treated with antitoxins and antibiotics, but can still cause death.
Sky News reports that people travelling through the Manston short-term holding centre for migrants near Ramsgate, Kent, will recieve shots against the illness following detection among asylum seekers.
The site has recieved attention in recent weeks, with hundreds of people moved from the site earlier this month after a union leader called it “catastrophically overcrowded.”
In late October, Immigration Service Union (ISU) spokesperson Lucy Moreton told BBC Radio 4: “The migrants aren’t being kept in humane conditions — they don’t have any enrichment, they don’t have anything to do, they’re bored, they’re frustrated and understandably they scrap among themselves and with us.
“It’s not their fault they’re in that situation. In fairness, it’s not Border Force or immigration enforcement’s fault. There’s no housing upstream so we can’t move them on.”
At the time, around 3,000 people were being housed in a unit built for a maximum of 1,600, according to The Guardian.
Although diptheria cases are very rare in the general population in Europe, dozens of cases have been reported in migration centers across the continent this year. In October, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said the disease was on the rise, and recommended implementing early detection and control measures for migration facilities.
This includes checking whether people passing through the centres are vaccinated and providing shots to those who haven’t had a full course. The jabs are very effective against severe disease.
Sky News reported that 39 cases of diptheria have been detected among asylum seekers in the U.K., according to the country’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The agency wrote in a memo seen by outlet: “We are seeing an increasing number of infections in people who have come to the U.K. to seek asylum.
“The reasons for this include sharing accommodation facilities and overcrowding, long journeys and poor conditions while travelling, low vaccination coverage, and higher rates of some infections around the world.”
The risk to the general public is considered low.
A spokesperson from the Home Office said: “We are aware of a very small number of cases of diphtheria reported at Manston. Full medical guidance and protocols have been followed.
“We take both the welfare of those in our care and our wider public health responsibilities extremely seriously.”