Diphtheria Symptoms Cause Diagnosis Treatment

Diphtheria (dif-THEER-e-uh) is a serious bacterial infection that usually affects the nose and throat mucous membranes. Is extremely rare in the United States and other developed countries because of widespread vaccination. However, many countries with limited health care or vaccination options continue to have high diphtheria rates.

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Diphtheria is treatable with medications. On the other hand, can harm the heart, kidneys, and nervous system in its advanced stages. Diphtheria can be fatal even with treatment, especially in children.


Diphtheria signs and symptoms typically appear 2 to 5 days after infection. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • A thick, gray membrane that covers the tonsils and throat.
  • Hoarseness and a sore throat
  • Neck swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes)
  • Breathing difficulties or rapid breathing
  • Excessive nasal discharge
  • Chills and fever
  • Tiredness

Infection with diphtheria-causing bacteria causes only a mild illness in some people or no visible signs and symptoms at all. Carriers are infected people who are unaware of their illness. They are known as carriers because they can spread the infection while remaining healthy.

Diphtheria on the skin (cutaneous)

The second type of diphtheria can cause pain, redness, and swelling on the skin, similar to other bacterial skin infections. The skin may also manifest as ulcers covered by a gray membrane.

On the skin occurs in the United States, though it is more common in tropical climates. It is more likely to occur among people who have poor hygiene and live in crowded conditions.

When should you see a doctor?

If you or your child has been exposed to diphtheria, contact your family doctor right away. Make an appointment if you are unsure whether your child has been vaccinated against diphtheria. Check that your own vaccinations are up to date.


The bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae causes diphtheria. The bacterium usually multiplies on or near the throat or skin’s surface. Spreads by:

  • Droplets in the air

People nearby may inhale C. diphtheriae when an infected person sneezes or coughs, releasing a mist of contaminated droplets. Diphtheria spreads quickly in this manner, especially in crowded areas.

  • Personal or household items that have been contaminated

Can be contracted by handling an infected person’s items, such as used tissues or hand towels, which may be contaminated with the bacteria.

Touching a contaminated wound can also spread diphtheria-causing bacteria.

People who have been infected with the diphtheria bacteria but have not been treated can infect people who have not received the diphtheria vaccine β€” even if they are asymptomatic.

Risk elements:

People who are more likely to contract diphtheria include:

  • Children and adults who are not up to date on their vaccinations
  • People who live in overcrowding or unsanitary conditions
  • Anyone who travels to an area where diphtheria is more prevalent

Diphtheria is extremely rare in the United States and Western Europe, where children have been immunized against the disease for decades. It is still prevalent in developing countries with low vaccination rates.

Diphtheria is primarily a threat to unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated people who travel internationally or have contact with people from less developed countries in areas where diphtheria vaccination is standard.


Diphtheria, if left untreated, can result in:

  • Breathing difficulties

A toxin may be produced by diphtheria-causing bacteria. This toxin causes tissue damage in the area of infection, which is usually the nose and throat. The infection creates a tough, gray membrane at that site, which is made up of dead cells, bacteria, and other substances. This membrane has the potential to obstruct breathing.

  • Heart disease.

Diphtheria toxin can spread through the bloodstream and harm other tissues. It can, for example, harm the heart muscle, resulting in complications such as heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis). Myocarditis can cause mild or severe heart damage. Myocarditis, at its worst, can result in heart failure and sudden death.

  • Damage to the nerves.

The toxin can also damage nerves. Nerves to the throat are common targets, as poor nerve conduction can cause difficulty swallowing. Nerves in the arms and legs may also become inflamed, resulting in muscle weakness.

Diphtheria toxin can paralyze muscles used for breathing if it damages the nerves that control them. You may require mechanical assistance to breathe at that point.

Most people with diphtheria survive these complications with treatment, but recovery is often slow. Diphtheria kills between 5% and 10% of people. Death rates are higher in children under the age of five and in adults over the age of 40.


Diphtheria was a common illness in young children before antibiotics were available. The disease is now not only treatable but also preventable thanks to a vaccine.

The diphtheria vaccine is frequently combined with tetanus and whooping cough vaccines (pertussis). Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine is a three-in-one vaccine. This vaccine’s most recent version is known as the DTaP vaccine for children and the Tdap vaccine for adolescents and adults.

One of the childhood vaccinations that doctors in the United States recommend during infancy is the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine. Vaccination consists of a series of five shots, usually given in the arm or thigh, given to children of the following ages:

  • two months
  • four months
  • six months
  • between 15 and 18 months
  • four to six years

Diphtheria vaccines work. Unintended consequences may occur. Some children experience mild fever, fussiness, drowsiness, or injection site tenderness after a DTaP shot. Ask your doctor how to help your child.

Problems are rare. Rarely, allergic reactions to the DTaP vaccine can cause serious but treatable complications in children (hives or a rash develops within minutes of the injection).

Epilepsy-afflicted children may not be able to receive the DTaP vaccine.

Boosting shots

Following the initial series of vaccinations received as a child, you will require booster shots of the diphtheria vaccine to help you maintain your immunity. This is because diphtheria immunity fades over time.

Children who received all of the recommended vaccinations before the age of seven should get their first booster shot around the age of eleven or twelve. The next booster shot is recommended 10 years later, and then every 10 years after that. Booster shots are especially important if you are traveling to an area where diphtheria is prevalent.

The booster is administered as a Tdap vaccine or as a diphtheria booster in conjunction with a tetanus booster β€” the tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine. This combination vaccine is administered via injection, typically into the arm or thigh.

Tdap is an alternative vaccine for adolescents aged 11 to 18, as well as adults who have not previously received a Tdap booster. It is also advised to be administered once during pregnancy, regardless of previous vaccinations.

If you are unsure about your vaccination status, consult your doctor about vaccines and booster shots. For children aged 7 to 10, who have not completed the Td series, a Tdap vaccine may be recommended as part of the Td series.


Diphtheria may be suspected in a sick child with a sore throat and a gray membrane covering the tonsils and throat. The presence of C. diphtheriae in a lab culture of throat membrane material confirms the diagnosis. Doctors can also collect tissue from an infected wound and send it to a lab to be tested for the type of diphtheria that affects the skin.

If a doctor suspects diphtheria, treatment begins right away, even before bacterial test results are available.


Diphtheria is a potentially fatal disease. Doctors respond quickly and aggressively. Doctors first check to see if the airway is blocked or constricted. In some cases, a breathing tube may be placed in the throat to keep the airway open until the airway is less inflamed. Treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics.

Penicillin and erythromycin, aid in the killing of bacteria in the body, thereby clearing up infections. Antibiotics shorten the period during which a person with diphtheria is contagious.

  • It is an antitoxin.

If a doctor suspects diphtheria, he or she will prescribe medication to neutralize the toxin in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided this medication. This antitoxin drug is injected into a vein or muscle.

Skin allergy tests may be performed before administering an antitoxin. These are performed to ensure that the infected person is not allergic to the antitoxin. If a person is allergic to the antitoxin, the doctor will most likely advise against taking it.

The disease often necessitates hospitalization for both children and adults. They may be isolated in an intensive care unit because diphtheria is easily transmitted to those who have not been immunized.

Treatments for Prevention:

If you have been exposed to a diphtheria-infected person, see a doctor for testing and possible treatment. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help prevent you from contracting the disease. A booster dose of the vaccine may also be required.

People who are found to be diphtheria carriers are given antibiotics to clear their systems of the bacteria.

Home remedies and way of life:

Diphtheria recovery necessitates a lot of bed rest. Avoiding physical activity is especially important if your heart has been affected. Because of the pain and difficulty swallowing, you may need to supplement your nutrition with liquids and soft foods for a while.

Strict isolation while contagious aids in the prevention of infection spread. Everyone in your home should wash their hands thoroughly to help limit the spread of the infection.

To prevent a recurrence, you’ll need a full course of disease vaccines after you recover. Unlike some other infections, does not confer lifetime immunity. It can be contracted more than once if you are not fully immunized.

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