A Safe Alternative to Diphtheria Antitoxin Therapy

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A Safe Alternative to Diphtheria Antitoxin Therapy

Diphtheria is a serious infection of the respiratory tract caused by bacteria. It usually affects children between 6 months and 3 years old and can be fatal; leading to heart inflammation (myocarditis) or neuropathy. Treatment includes antibiotics combined with an antitoxin which neutralizes any toxin produced by bacteria during treatment.

Treatment of Diphtheria requires rapid identification and isolation of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae to eliminate it from the body. This is accomplished through bacterial culture, enzymatic tests, as well as toxin detection tests on throat and nasal swab samples. Early diagnosis allows for preventative measures like vaccination and booster doses of toxoid before any clinical symptoms appear.

Diphtheria antitoxin, the most widely prescribed immunotherapy for this disease, has been around for over 100 years and remains effective with a 97% clinical success rate.

Horse serum-derived antitoxin has long been used to treat diphtheria patients. Unfortunately, it carries several disadvantages such as the possibility of serum sickness and difficulty procuring it from horses.

Recently, alternative sources of diphtheria antitoxin have been explored. These include affinity-purified antibodies derived from plasma of immunized adults. Studies have demonstrated that these antibodies can protect guinea pigs against diphtheria toxin when injected into their skin and may one day be used in humans as well.

Dr Mark Klempner from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and MassBiologics led a team of scientists that recently discovered that human monoclonal antibodies can be generated directly from antibody-secreting cells found in immunized volunteers’ bloodstream. This finding has shown promising results in a pilot study, suggesting it may provide a safer and more accessible option for diphtheria antitoxin therapy.

In many countries, having a safe alternative to diphtheria antitoxin would be beneficial, as has been demonstrated in the recent outbreaks among refugee populations in Bangladesh. This would reduce the burden of diphtheria on society and enable better interventions for this neglected tropical disease.

Diphtheria antitoxin therapy can be improved using high-throughput genetic methods like whole genome sequencing and more precise strain diversity analysis. These approaches offer a more precise and discriminatory understanding of diphtheria’s cause, which is essential for effective disease surveillance and prevention efforts.

Other alternatives to diphtheria antitoxin include compounds that inhibit the transport of DT into host cells or interfere with bacteria’s ability to synthesize it. These molecules could potentially be employed for treating diseases, improving vaccines, or even preventing their spread.

Current diphtheria vaccines are highly effective, yet they may not be 100% successful due to the rise of drug-resistant strains. Therefore, it is critical that new strategies for early detection and management of diphtheria be developed with priority.

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