Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that can result in heart, nerve, and kidney damage. It can be deadly if it is not treated right away.
Diphtheria is an infection caused by certain bacteria that make a toxin. The toxin spreads from person-to-person contact. This can happen by:
- Inhaling bacteria after a person coughs or sneezes
- Using personal items such as tissues or drinking glasses
- Having skin contact
Things that raise the risk of diphtheria are:
- Never being vaccinated for diphtheria or not having a booster dose in the past 10 years
- Having a weakened immune system
Symptoms of diphtheria may be mild or severe.
They may include:
- A gray coating in the back of the throat
- Sore throat or problems swallowing
- Swollen lymph glands in the neck
- Breathing problems
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The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. A nose or throat swab can confirm the diagnosis.
Diphtheria will be treated right away, even if test results are not ready.
- An antitoxin to stop damage to the body
- Antibiotics to treat the infection
- Isolation and bed rest
Staying up to date with the diphtheria vaccine can prevent the infection.
- Diphtheria. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/dip.html.
- Diphtheria. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/diphtheria.
- Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html.
- Sharma NC, Efstratiou A, et al. Diphtheria. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2019;5(1):81.
- Td (tetanus, diphtheria) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/td.html.
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/tdap.html.
- David L. Horn, MD, FACP
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