AHS notifying individuals of potential diphtheria exposure

June 13, 2019

EDMONTON - Following one confirmed case of diphtheria and three identified carriers of the bacteria at an Edmonton area elementary school, Alberta Health Services (AHS) continues to monitor and provide follow-up treatment for a small group of individuals who may have had close contact with this cluster of case and carriers.

At this time the risk to the rest of the school and the general public remains extremely low.

When someone who is fully immunized or immunized for their age, comes into contact with the bacteria that causes diphtheria, they may become a carrier and are often not symptomatic. For their protection and that of those around them, they receive the same treatment and are subject to the same isolation protocols as someone who is identified as symptomatic.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection causing inflammation in the upper respiratory tract that can lead to heart and neurological issues. It is spread through respiratory secretions and by direct contact skin contact.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, loss of appetite and feeling unwell. Severe disease can cause extreme neck swelling. Life threatening complications include upper airway obstruction.

The same day AHS received confirmation of the case last week, we immediately initiated our Public Health followup protocols, which include treatment and isolating the patient to prevent further spread of illness. Public Health staff also reached out to close contacts for the necessary testing and prophylaxis. Some close contacts were put on exclusion protocols as a precaution.

AHS would like to thank the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) for their assistance and support during what’s been a difficult time for one of its schools, students, and families. We would also like to acknowledge the hard work of our communicable disease staff who are providing excellent care and support for these individuals.

AHS’ Environmental Public Health team and Infection, Prevention and Control team are working with the school to ensure that all necessary cleaning and disinfection protocols are in place.

We recognize that this is a stressful time for students, staff and parents. Anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to call Health Link by dialing 811.

In Alberta, the diphtheria containing vaccine is offered, free of charge, through Alberta’s publicly funded immunization program.

For children, adequate immunization is three doses of diphtheria-containing vaccine before one year of age, and booster doses at 18 months and between four to six years of age. Children will also be offered a dose of diphtheria-containing vaccine in Grade 9 at school during routine scheduled immunization rounds. For adults, a booster dose of diphtheria containing vaccine is recommended at 10 year intervals after the Grade 9 dose.

Any Albertan uncertain of their immunization history, or their child’s immunization history, can call their local public health office or Health Link at 811 to discuss.

AHS encourages parents and guardians to ensure they and their children are up to date on their immunizations. AHS also encourages students to participate in regular school immunization programs.

For more information on routine childhood immunization, visit

Note to media: Dr. Chris Sikora Medical Officer of Health, Edmonton Zone, and Edmonton Public School Board Superintendent Darrel Robertson will be available to speak to media today, June 13, 2019, at 2 p.m., at Coronation Plaza (14310 111 Ave N.W.).

For media inquiries, contact:

Kirsten Goruk
AHS Communications

Carrie Rosa
EPSB Communications