BLUE UPDATE Health & Food


Diphtheria is a contagious and Deadly strain of bacteria infection that greatly affects the mucous membrane of the Nose and Throat.


  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Skin


This is solely dependent on the body part that is affected. People who are exposed to diphtheria usually start having symptoms in 2–5 days if they get sick. If a doctor thinks you have respiratory[nasopharyngeal] diphtheria, they will have you start treatment right away.


The infection usually occurs in the spring or winter months. It is communicable for 2-6 weeks without antibiotic treatment. People who are most susceptible to infection are those who are not completely immunized or have low antitoxin antibody levels and have been exposed to a carrier or diseased individual.


Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that make a toxin. It is the toxin that can cause people to get very sick.


Diphtheria bacteria spread from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets, like from coughing or sneezing. People can also get sick from touching infected open sores or ulcers. Those at increased risk of getting sick include:

• People in the same household
People with a history of frequent, close contact with the patient
People directly exposed to secretions from the suspected infection site (e.g., mouth, skin) of the patient


This occurs when bacteria get into and attach itself to the lining of the respiratory system, it can cause:

  • Weakness
  • Sore throat
  • Mild fever
  • Swollen glands in the neck

The bacteria make a toxin that kills healthy tissues in the respiratory system. Within two to three days, the dead tissue forms a thick, gray coating that can build up in the throat or nose. Medical experts call this thick, gray coating a “pseudomembrane.” It can cover tissues in the nose, tonsils, voice box, and throat, making it very hard to breathe and swallow.

If the toxin gets into the blood stream, it can cause heart, nerve, and kidney damage.


The bacteria can also infect the skin, causing open sores or ulcers. However, diphtheria skin infections rarely result in severe disease.


In the United States, there are four vaccines used to prevent diphtheria:

  • DTaP,
  • Tdap,
  • DT,
  • Td.

Each of these vaccines prevents diphtheria and tetanus; DTaP and Tdap also help prevent pertussis (whooping cough).

Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines in the best protection against diphtheria.

Graphic depicting young children, preteens, and adults, all of which need diphtheria vaccines.

CDC recommends that close contacts* of someone with diphtheria receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. Experts call this prophylaxis (pro-fuh-lak-sis).

In addition to getting antibiotics, close contacts of someone with diphtheria should be

  • Monitored for possible illness for 7-10 days from the time of last exposure
  • Thoroughly tested for Diphtheria from samples obtained from Nose and Throat
  • Given a Diphtheria booster if they are not up-to-date with their vaccines.

Health departments investigate each case of diphtheria to identify all close contacts and make sure they receive the right preventive measures.


Close contacts are defined as all household members, people with a history of frequent, close contact with the patient, or people directly exposed to secretions from the suspected infection site of the patient.

Carrier – someone whose cultures are positive for the diphtheria species but does not exhibit signs and symptoms.


Complications from respiratory diphtheria may include:

  • Airway blockage
  • Myocarditis (damage to the heart muscle)
  • Polyneuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Kidney failure

NOTE – For some people, respiratory diphtheria can lead to death. Even with treatment, about 1 in 10 patients with respiratory diphtheria die. Without treatment, up to half of patients can die from the disease.


People with diphtheria are usually no longer able to infect others 48 hours after they begin taking antibiotics. However, it is important to finish taking the full course of antibiotics to make sure the bacteria are completely removed from the body. 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.

Rates of death are higher in children under age 5 or adults older than age 40.

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