A WARNING has been issued after a small outbreak of fatal diphtheria has been confirmed in the UK.

It's a highly contagious disease that affects the skin, nose and throat and without treatment, can be fatal.

The most recent cases have been confirmed at an asylum seeker processing centre in Kent.

The centre, at an airfield in Ramsgate, is responsible for providing accomodation for around 3,000 people who arrive in the UK on small boats.

Officials would not confirm the exact number of cases but said it was 'very small', The Guardian reported.

Once people arrive at the site, they have to sleep close together, on the floor in tents – which medics have said would increase the likelihood of infections.

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Originally, the venue was only supposed to hold 1,000 people.

A vaccine for diphtheria was introduced in the UK in 1942, and last year there were just ten cases of the illness.

However, it's not known if those coming into the UK are vaccinated against the illness.

It was also reported that there have been other outbreaks of illness at the centre, including norovirus and scabies.

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Medics have warned that the outbreak is 'very worrying'.

Clinical adviser at the charity Medical Justice, Dr Liz Clark questioned how long it took for these cases to be detected.

“Most GPs in this country have never seen a case of diphtheria so I wonder how long it took to diagnose this.

"I have never seen a case. When people are living in not great conditions and in close proximity it is a massive task to trace everyone who may have come into contact with this," she said.

In a statement, the Home Office said it was aware of a small outbreak at the site in Manston.

What are the symptoms of diptheria you need to know

Symptoms of the illness usually start two to five days after you become infected.

The NHS says the key signs include:

  • a thick grey-white coating that may cover the back of your throat, nose and tongue
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands in your neck
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing

They added that in countries where there are poor hygiene measures in place, diptheria of the skin is more common.

Symptoms of this include:

  • pus-filled blisters on your legs, feet and hands
  • large ulcers surrounded by red, sore looking skin

Source: NHS

"Full medical guidance and protocols have been followed. We take the safety and welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and are working closely with health professionals and the UK Health Security Agency to ensure the instances are contained and to support the individuals affected," they said.

The illness can be serious and sometimes fatal, especially in children.

Medics at the NHS say the best way to avoid it, is to be fully vaccinated.

Since 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a rise in cases in places such as Indonesia, India, South American and Africa.

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It's spread by coughs and sneezes or through close contact with someone who is infected.

You can, however, also get it from sharing items such as cups, clothing or bedding with an infected person.

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