Diphtheria: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Medicines


Diphtheria is a highly contagious, infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It primarily affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose, but can also infect the skin. The bacteria release a toxin that can cause damage to tissues and organs in the body. Diphtheria spreads through respiratory droplets, such as through coughing or sneezing, or by coming into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

The symptoms of diphtheria can vary from mild to severe, depending on the location and extent of the infection. Some people may not have any symptoms, but can still be carriers of the bacteria and spread the disease to others. Here are some common symptoms of diphtheria:

  • Sore throat: Diphtheria often starts with a sore throat that gradually becomes worse
  • Low-grade fever: A mild fever is a common symptom of diphtheria.
  • Difficulty swallowing: The throat can become swollen and narrow, making it difficult to swallow.
  • Swollen glands in the neck: The lymph nodes in the neck may become swollen and tender.
  • Gray or white patches in the throat or nose: These patches are caused by the build-up of dead tissue and bacteria in the affected area.
  • Weakness or fatigue: Some people with diphtheria may feel weak or tired.
  • Breathing difficulties: In severe cases, diphtheria can cause breathing difficulties, as the airway becomes obstructed.
  • Skin lesions: Diphtheria can also cause skin lesions, which may be painful or itchy.

Causes of Diphtheria

Here is a list of the causes and risk factors associated with diphtheria:

  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae: Diphtheria is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
  • Transmission through respiratory droplets: Diphtheria can be spread through respiratory droplets, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • Contact with contaminated objects or surfaces: Diphtheria can also be spread by coming into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces.
  • Carriers: Healthy people can carry the bacteria that cause diphtheria without showing symptoms and unknowingly spread the disease to others.
  • Low vaccination rates: Diphtheria can be prevented with vaccination, but in areas where vaccination rates are low, outbreaks can occur.
  • Travel to areas with low vaccination rates: Travelers to areas with low vaccination rates may also be at risk of contracting diphtheria.
  • Compromised immune system: People with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, may be more susceptible to diphtheria.
  • Age: Children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 60 may be more susceptible to diphtheria.

diagnosis of Diphtheria

The diagnosis of diphtheria involves a combination of clinical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. Here are some common diagnostic methods for diphtheria:

  • Throat culture: A swab is taken from the back of the throat to check for the presence of the bacteria that cause diphtheria.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing: A test that detects the genetic material of the bacteria that cause diphtheria.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests may be ordered to check for the presence of the toxin produced by the bacteria.
  • Imaging studies: Chest X-rays may be done to check for signs of pneumonia or other complications.
  • Physical examination: The doctor will examine the patient for characteristic symptoms of diphtheria, such as a thick, grayish-white coating in the throat and enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Medical history: The doctor will ask about recent travel, immunization status, and other factors that may be relevant to the diagnosis.

Prevention of Diphtheria

Here are some measures to prevent diphtheria:

  • Vaccination: The most effective way to prevent diphtheria is by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is usually given as a part of the childhood immunization schedule and provides long-term protection against the disease. Booster shots are recommended to maintain immunity throughout life
  • Maintain good hygiene: Good hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing, covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, and avoiding sharing utensils, glasses, or bottles can prevent the spread of diphtheria.
  • Prompt treatment of infected individuals: If someone is infected with diphtheria, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly. Treatment with antibiotics can help to eliminate bacteria from the body and prevent complications.
  • Isolation of infected individuals: Individuals with diphtheria should be isolated until they are no longer contagious. This can help to prevent the spread of the disease to others.
  • Avoiding close contact with infected individuals: If someone is infected with diphtheria, it’s important to avoid close contact with them until they are no longer contagious.

Vaccination of Diphtheria

The diphtheria vaccine is a highly effective way to prevent infection with the bacteria that causes diphtheria. The vaccine is typically given in combination with other vaccines as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule.
The diphtheria vaccine is known as the DTaP vaccine, which stands for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The vaccine is typically given in a series of five doses starting at 2 months of age and ending at 4-6 years of age. Booster doses are recommended every 10 years to maintain immunity throughout life.
The vaccine works by stimulating the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the diphtheria toxin. If a person is exposed to the bacteria that causes diphtheria after receiving the vaccine, their immune system will recognize and fight off the bacteria before they become sick.
The diphtheria vaccine is generally safe and well-tolerated. Like all vaccines, it can cause mild side effects such as soreness at the injection site, fever, and fussiness. Serious side effects are rare.

diphtheria vaccine in pregnancy

The diphtheria vaccine is generally considered safe to administer during pregnancy. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine, which includes the diphtheria vaccine, during each pregnancy to help protect both the mother and the newborn from pertussis (whooping cough).
Although there is limited data on the safety of the diphtheria vaccine specifically during pregnancy, studies have shown that the Tdap vaccine is not associated with an increased risk of adverse outcomes such as preterm birth, low birth weight, or birth defects.
The diphtheria vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy, but it is typically recommended to be given between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation to maximize the transfer of antibodies to the newborn. This can help protect the newborn from diphtheria and other diseases during the first few months of life before they can receive their own vaccinations.
As with any vaccine, it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of the diphtheria vaccine with your healthcare provider. If you have any concerns or questions about receiving the vaccine during pregnancy, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Medicines For diphtheria

Treatment typically involves a combination of antibiotics and antitoxin therapy.
The following medications may be used in the treatment of diphtheria:

  • Antibiotics: Penicillin or erythromycin are commonly used to treat diphtheria. They help to kill the bacteria and prevent further spread of the infection.
  • Antitoxin: Diphtheria antitoxin is a medication that can neutralize the toxins produced by the bacteria. It is often given along with antibiotics to prevent complications and reduce the severity of symptoms.
  • Pain relievers: Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce pain and fever associated with diphtheria.

It is important to note that diphtheria is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Treatment should always be administered by a qualified healthcare professional.

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