Indigenous Services Canada is asking for residents in the Onion Lake area to get vaccinated for diphtheria.

Two cases of the rare disease we’re found in the area over the past month. The disease can affect the body in two ways either through the respiratory system or through a wound on the skin.

Regional Medical Health Officer Dr. Ibrahim Khan says this case involved the people contracting it by their skin. He says they’ve been given antibiotics to treat it which seem to be working.

“In this case, we were quick enough to put the patient and all the family members on antibiotics. It usually heals pretty quickly.”

He says they will be monitoring the family for the next seven to ten days to make sure the antibiotics are working.

Khan says the disease is contagious and can spread quite easily. It can be spread airborne and also by touching an item that was handled by an infected person or by touching the wound.

“It can spread from one person to another through a cough or sneeze. Also if you have a wound that’s been diagnosed with diphtheria, if it’s not covered or treated then it can spread to other parts of the body like the respiratory system and affect your lungs, brain and other parts of the body.”

Symptoms of diphtheria include fevers, chills, difficulty breathing, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. If left untreated, the disease can lead to long-term breathing troubles, nerve damage in the throat or heart damage.

Diphtheria rarely occurs in North America as children are often given a combined vaccination for it, tetanus and whooping cough at a young age. He recommends for people who haven’t had their immunization shot to get the vaccine. For people who think they may have contracted the disease, he recommends staying at home, avoiding crowds and consulting a doctor.

“If you haven’t seen the doctor yet, stay home and cover your coughs and sneezes. Avoid sharing anything with your secretions on it like from the nose or mouth. Anyone with long-term lesions of skin wounds, we ask them to cover it, consult a doctor if your wound isn’t healing and you’re not on antibiotics.”

According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, fewer than 5 cases of diphtheria were reported each year in the past 20 years.