Photo of foreign worker dormitory from Straits Times

Singapore just saw its first fatality from a highly-contagious disease on Friday (Aug 4), with the deceased victim confirmed to have contracted the disease locally. In a press release by the Ministry of Health, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker died from an airborne-transmittable disease, diphtheria. As the worker did not travel out of Singapore recently, the ministry confirmed that the disease is locally contracted.

The unnamed foreign worker was admitted to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on August 1 after he developed fever and severe swelling at the neck on July 31. He was isolated and medicated, but treatment failed and he died three days later.

The deceased victim lived in a dormitory at Yishun Avenue 7 and worked at Teban Gardens, a residential estate in Jurong East. 48 other victims who were in contact with the deceased have been identified and isolated by the ministry, with 2 already diagnosed with sore throats, a key symptom of the disease. Other symptoms of diphtheria includes fever, swelling of the neck and nasal discharge.

The Ministry of Health tries to play down the seriousness of the disease saying that the chance of contracting the disease is “low” and that all children in Singapore are vaccinated against the disease. However, there is no mention how many others were not vaccinated.

“The risk of diphtheria spreading in Singapore is low, as it is compulsory for all children here to be vaccinated against the bacteria… All 48 contacts have been given preventive medication and a booster diphtheria vaccine, and their respiratory samples have been taken for testing,” said the ministry. The best way to prevent diphtheria is to get vaccinated.”

This is Singapore’s first case of diphtheria in 25 years, and it is likely to be viral as foreign workers’ dormitories are all overcrowded with communal facilities like toilets having very poor hygiene.