Diphtheria is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae,
which produces poisons (toxins) that can spread through the body. It
is a contagious infection that affects the respiratory system, skin,
heart, and central nervous system. After exposure to the bacteria,
symptoms typically begin within 2 to 5 days. Risk increases in the
elderly and children under age 5, those with poor nutrition,
alcoholics, insufficiently immunized persons, those living in
crowded or unsanitary living conditions, and in epidemics.
Symptoms may include:
• Low grade fever
• Sore throat
• Swollen neck glands
• Difficulty breathing or airway obstruction (due to a thick
• Shock (low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, pale and clammy skin,
sweating, and feeling or looking anxious) due to the circulating
WHAT YOUR DOCTOR CAN DO:
• Diagnose the problem by asking about your symptoms, doing a
physical exam, laboratory blood tests, throat culture, and possible
• Hospitalize and isolate you while diphtheria antitoxin (medication
to treat the diphtheria) is given.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
• Get immunized against diphtheria with the Td, DPT, or DTaP vaccine
every 10 years in adults and as recommended for children.
• Maintain good nutrition and sanitary living conditions.
• Avoid exposure to those with diphtheria.
• Strict bed rest until fully recovered.
• Liquid diet while ill followed by a soft diet.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT:
• Treatment started early can cure the infection within 1 week. Full
recovery usually takes several weeks.
• Your doctor will notify the local health department that you have
diphtheria because others must be protected from exposure to the
illness (to prevent an epidemic). All body fluids such as nasal
discharges, saliva, blood, urine, and stools are contagious and must
be handled/disposed of carefully. Your local health department may
provide further instructions.
• Complications include heart inflammation and failure, nerve
inflammation (neuritis), suffocation due to airway obstruction and
misdiagnoses as a less-serious infection, which can lead to a delay
in treatment. Delaying or avoiding treatment may result in life-long
heart problems or death.
CALL 1061 OR SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL
ASSISTANCE If you have symptoms of diphtheria, have been
exposed to diphtheria, or are not immunized from diphtheria