An Overview

Diphtheria is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that usually affects the nose and throat. It is a vaccine-preventable disease which is now very uncommon in Australia but which can re-emerge when immunization rates are low. Diphtheria  is a serious bacterial infection that usually affects the mucous membranes of your nose and throat. Diphtheria is extremely rare in the United States and other developed countries, thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease. Diphtheria has infected humans for centuries. Hippocrates produced the first documented description of diphtheria in the fifth century BC. The disease has been a leader in causing death, especially in children, for many centuries.

Type of Diphtheria

1. Respiratory diphtheria.
2. Cutaneous diphtheria.
3. Malignant diphtheria.
4. Nasal diphtheria.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

Some of the symptoms of diphtheria are similar to those of the common cold. This membrane firmly adheres to the underlying tissues of the mouth, tonsils, pharynx, or other site of localization. The membrane separates in 7 to 10 days, but toxic complications occur later in severe cases. The heart is affected first, often in the second or third week. The patient develops toxic myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), which can be fatal. The classic case of diphtheria is an upper respiratory infection caused by bacteria. It produces a gray pseudomembrane, or a covering that looks like a membrane, over the lining of the nose and throat, around the area of the tonsils. Diphtheria signs and symptoms usually begin two to five days after a person becomes infected and may include:

  • A thick, gray membrane covering your throat and tonsils
  • A sore throat and hoarseness
  • a loud, barking cough
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in your neck
  • Changes vision
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever and chills
  • Malaise
  • Fever
  • Bluish skin
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Signs of shock, such as pale and cold skin, sweating  and a rapid heartbeat.

Causes for Diphtheria

Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The bacterium usually multiplies on or near the surface of the throat. C. Even if an infected person doesn’t show any signs or symptoms of diphtheria, they’re still able to transmit the bacterial infection for up to six weeks after the initial infection. The cause of diphtheria is an infection by Corynebacterium species; the most severe infections are due to those Corynebacterium diphtheriae strains that produce exotoxins. The bacteria most commonly infect your nose and throat. Once you’re infected, the bacteria release dangerous substances called toxins.
diphtheria spreads via:

  • Airborne dropletsWhen an infected person’s sneeze or cough releases a mist of contaminated droplets, people nearby may inhale C. diphtheria. Diphtheria spreads easily this way, especially in crowded conditions.
  • Contaminated personal or household items. People occasionally catch diphtheria from handling an infected person’s things, such as used tissues or hand towels, that may be contaminated with the bacteria. You can also transfer diphtheria-causing bacteria by touching an infected wound.
  • Inhibits the production of proteins by cells.
  • Destroys the tissue at the site of the infection.
  • Leads to membrane formation.
  • Gets taken up into the bloodstream and distributed around the body’s tissues.
  • The organisms easily invade the tissue lining the throat, and during that invasion, they produce exotoxins that destroy the tissue and lead


Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam to check for swollen lymph nodes. They’ll also ask you about your medical history and the symptoms you’ve been having. Diphtheria is usually diagnosed based on a patient’s clinical presentation. Presumptive treatment is then started while further tests to confirm the diagnosis are performed.

Your doctor may believe that you have diphtheria if they see a gray coating on your throat or tonsils. If your doctor needs to confirm the diagnosis, they’ll take a sample of the affected tissue and send it to a laboratory for testing.

The diagnosis can be confirmed by culturing a swab sample from infected areas. A swab is taken from the throat, and in particular from the tonsillar crypts as well as any discolored or ulcerated areas.

Laboratory criteria. Presence of corynebacterium diphtheriae in the throat swab samples, Histological or cellular level presence of the bacteria


Doctor if you suspect you might be allergic to the antitoxin. They may be able to give you small doses of the antitoxin and gradually build up to higher amounts. Your doctor will also prescribe antibiotics, such as erythromycin or penicillin, to help clear up the infection.
Diphtheria treatment today involves: Using diphtheria antitoxin to stop the poison (toxin) produced by the bacteria from damaging the body.
Diphtheria can be prevented to an extent by the use of vaccines and antibiotics. The vaccines for diphtheria is called DTaP. It’s normally given in a single shot with vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The DTaP is given in five shots to the children of ages mentioned below:
• 6 months
• 12 to 18 months
• 4 to 6 years
A child may be allergic to the vaccine in rare cases. This may result in hives or seizures that last only for few days from the date of vaccination.

  •  Using diphtheria antitoxin to stop the toxin made by the bacteria from damaging the body. This treatment is very important for respiratory diphtheria infections, but it is rarely used for diphtheria skin infections.
  • Using antibiotics to kill and get rid of the bacteria. This is important for both diphtheria infections in the respiratory system and on the skin.
  • After the patient finishes the full treatment, the doctor will run tests to make sure the bacteria are not in the patient’s body anymore.


Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent diphtheria. In the United States, there are four vaccines used to prevent diphtheria: DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. Each of these vaccines prevents diphtheria and tetanus; DTaP and Tdap also help prevent pertussis (whooping cough).

CDC recommends that close contacts of someone with diphtheria receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. Experts call this prophylaxis.

Hope this Symptoms and cure article will be helpful to all. Do not forget to share your valuable suggestions if any.

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