What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a type of bacterial infection. It causes severe respiratory and other complications. A bacteria known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae causes diphtheria. It releases a toxin that can damage the organs and tissues of the body. 

Diphtheria has a long history. In the past times, it was a huge reason for death in many parts of the world. Vaccination campaigns made a big impact on reducing the disease.


History of Diphtheria

Humans have known about diphtheria for thousands of years. Many parts of the world used to experience it as a frequent cause of death. This gave rise to the scientists and researchers of that time to create the first diphtheria antitoxin. They treated patients afflicted with the disease using this antitoxin.

In the following section, we will discuss → the causes and transmission of this disease.

Causes and Transmission of Diphtheria

This disease is an infectious disease. Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a bacteria, causes it. This bacterium produces a toxin. Which damages the respiratory system heart, and nervous system.

Causes of Diphtheria

Bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae is the reason for diphtheria disease. This bacterium is a gram-positive bacterium and doesn’t produce a protective spore. People infected with it can find it in their upper respiratory tract. The bacterium produces a toxin. This toxin causes the characteristic symptoms of diphtheria. These symptoms include a sore throat, fever, and the formation of a thick grayish coating in the throat.

Transmission of Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease. It spreads through → respiratory droplets or when you come into contact with infected objects. When an infected person coughs or sneezes. They release respiratory droplets that carry the bacterium. Other individuals can inhale these droplets, leading to infection. The bacterium can also survive on surfaces for several hours, allowing it to be easily spread through → contact with contaminated objects.

In the following section, we will discuss → the symptoms and complications of the disease.

Symptoms and Complications

Diphtheria, it’s like this really serious bacterial infection that mainly goes after your respiratory system. Various symptoms can occur, ranging from mild to severe. In certain instances, if you don’t treat it, it can even be fatal. In this section, let’s dig into the symptoms and potential issues that arise in this disease.

Initial symptoms

Diphtheria symptoms look similar to the common cold or flu. These may include a sore throat, fever, and general malaise. As the infection gets worse, the throat and nose may develop a thick, grayish-white coating. That makes breathing and swallowing difficult. If left untreated, this coating can cause severe respiratory distress as it is composed of dead tissue, bacteria, and immune system cells.


Thick, Grayish-White Coating in the Throat and Nose

Diphtheria often causes a thick, grayish-white coating to form in the throat and nose. Which is one of its most characteristic symptoms. Dead cells and bacteria make up this coating, making it difficult to breathe and swallow. It can also cause a distinctive “bull neck” appearance, due to swelling in the neck.

Potential Complications

If we don’t treat diphtheria, it can cause various complications, and some of them might put our lives at risk. Heart damage is one of the most serious complications. It happens when the toxin produced by the bacterium affects the heart muscle. This causes an irregular heartbeat. In a few cases, there are heart failures.

Nerve damage is another potential complication of diphtheria, which can cause paralysis in some cases. This condition may affect the muscles of the face, throat, and limbs. In certain cases, it can become permanent.

In the next section, we will talk → about the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection. It mainly affects the respiratory system. Also causes heart and nerve damage. When it’s severe it can even cause death. Let’s see how to diagnose this disease.

Physical Exam and Laboratory Tests

Doctors diagnose diphtheria by conducting a physical examination and performing laboratory tests. Going for a physical exam, mainly the doctor will examine you for symptoms. These symptoms are sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck. They may also check for a thick gray coating on the back of the throat or tonsils, which is a classic symptom of diphtheria. Laboratory tests may include a culture of the bacteria from the back of the throat or blood tests to check for the presence of antibodies against the bacteria.

Treatment Including Antitoxin and Antibiotics

Typically, when treating diphtheria, doctors use antitoxin to neutralize the toxin produced by the bacteria and antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. The antitoxin is a medicine that contains antibodies that can bind to and inactivate the toxin. It is usually given by injection or intravenously (IV). People use antibiotics to kill bacteria and stop the infection from spreading. They may be given orally or by injection. Patients may need supportive care, such as → oxygen therapy, to help with their breathing.

Supportive Care

In addition to anti-toxin and anti-biotics, supportive care may be necessary to help patients recover from diphtheria. Oxygen therapy may be needed if the patient has difficulty breathing. Intravenous fluids and electrolytes may be given to prevent dehydration. Bed rest and a soft diet may also be recommended to help the patient conserve energy and recover.

In the following section, we will discuss → the prevention of the disease.

Prevention of Diphtheria

Diphtheria spreads when an infected person releases respiratory droplets. To prevent diphtheria, the most effective method is vaccination.

Vaccination to Prevent Diphtheria

Diphtheria vaccine does a great job of stopping the disease. The diphtheria vaccine, containing a trace of the toxin produced by the bacteria, activates the body’s immune system, prompting the production of protective antibodies. These antibodies can fight the diphtheria bacteria in case of exposure.

Vaccination Usage as Childhood Immunizations

The diphtheria vaccine is typically given as part of a combination vaccine called the DTaP vaccine. Which also protects against tetanus and pertussis (a highly contagious respiratory infection). Children receive the vaccine through → a series of five shots. They give the first three doses when the babies reach 2, 4, and 6 months old. The fourth dose is given between 15 and 18 months old. The fifth dose is given between 4 to 6 years. This vaccine is widely available. It is a routine part of childhood immunizations in many countries.

Booster Shots may be Necessary to Maintain Immunity

It’s important to note that immunity to diphtheria can wane over time, which means that booster shots may be necessary to maintain protection against the disease. Booster shots are typically given every 10 years, but the schedule may vary depending on the individual’s age, vaccination history, and risk of exposure to diphtheria.

Besides getting vaccinated, you can take other measures to help stop diphtheria from spreading. These include:

  1. Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  2. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  3. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  4. Staying home from work or school when sick

To shield yourself and others from the severe outcomes of diphtheria, you should adhere to these diphtheria prevention measures.

Final Words

Diphtheria is a severe bacterial infection and can pose a life-threatening risk when it remains untreated. The disease spreads through respiratory droplets or when infected individuals come into direct contact, causing symptoms like → fever, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. Treatment typically involves administering antitoxin and antibiotics, but prevention through vaccination is the best way to protect against the disease.

Further Reading

We express our heartfelt gratitude to our readers for their unwavering support in engaging with the IntakeLearn article on the management of diseases. We will continuously provide significant information you can check articles like and .

For more information on this topic, you can check other sources:

  1. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/_Diphtheria
  2. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diphtheria_toxin
  3. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diphtheria_vaccine


  1. See page for author, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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