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Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection that happens mostly in children. It becomes deadly if the bacteria is left in the body to keep releasing toxins into the bloodstream. It mainly affects the pharyngeal tonsil. The symptoms are similar to that of cold or the flu.

Your child’s weakest point is between age 0-6 years. During this period, his immune system is still fresh, weak, and upcoming. A number of diseases at this point can easily be contacted by your child, hence the need to be continuously vaccinated against several infections in order to build a strengthened immunity.

One of the infections your child will be immunized against is Diphtheria. This infection is a severe bacterial infection that affects the nose, throat, and in rare cases, the skin of children. If not treated right away, it can lead to damage of the kidney, nervous system, and heart, and can eventually lead to death.

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Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection caused be the bacterium called ‘Corynebacterium Diphtheriae’. The bacterium irritates the mucous membrane of your throat, nasal region and pharyngeal tonsil by releasing a toxin, which causes gray tissues to accumulate. This situation leads to difficulty in breathing and swallowing.

Diphtheria also appears on the skin on rare cases, caused by a more uniformly strained Corynebacterium called ‘Coryneform Bacteria’ or ‘Diphtheroids’. When these bacteria inhibit the body, their toxins flow through the bloodstream and begin to form gray tissues that appear everywhere on the skin and are arranged in a palisade manner.

Diphtheria is a common childhood disease, mostly affecting children lesser than 5 years. Due to the introduction of its immunization, the rate of diphtheria has reduced to the barest minimum. Still, it is important to immunize your child against the disease and see the doctors if there are symptoms.

Types of Diphtheria

a) Respiratory Diphtheria

This is the most common type. The bacterium releases toxins that irritates the throat and nose making it difficult for a child to swallow and breathe.

b) Skin (Cutaneous) Diphtheria

Caused by a more uniformly strained Corynebacterium, diphtheroids. The child with the infection can also develop pains, redness and swelling of the skin. The skin becomes very itchy and begins to develop wounds covered in gray tissue that will not heal. This, however, is rare. It happens in warmer climates and we’re there is a case of overcrowding and poor hygiene.

Who is vulnerable to contacting Diphtheria?

Asides your child being able to catch the infection, there are other risk factors you need to watch out for to enable you and your family the ability to take care of you, your child and the rest of the members without risking easy infection and transmission. They include:

  • Children less than 5 years, and adults over 60 years are more likely to contact the infection.
  • No presence of or lack of continuous immunization against the bacterium and infection.
  • Immune system defects such as AIDS, have a high tendency of being infected.
  • Crowded, compact and unhygienic environments can harbor the bacterium.

What are the possible complications?

Once it is diagnosed, this infection should be treated immediately. If not treated on time and immediately it is noticed, the bacteria can cause severe damage to your child’s health and body, which can lead to death.

Some complications include:

  • Breakdown of the nervous system
  • Damage to the kidney
  • Heart damage and failure

To prevent the situation from getting to this point, it is advisable to be alert to the symptoms, quickly diagnose it and treat it on time. Better still, take preventive measures to avoid such from happening at all.

Diphtheria Treatment

When your ward is infected with diphtheria, he requires a fast and intense treatment to get rid of the bacteria and its toxins before it gets complicated. During the treatment, it is advisable that your child stays in the hospital to prevent transmission to other children and people.

The treatment comes in two steps:

1. Antitoxin Injections (Anti-diphtheritic Serum)

These vaccines fight and combat with bacteria toxins, neutralizing them. They are given in small doses and when there’s no negative reaction to the serum, it is gradually built to higher amounts.

2. Antibiotics

These treatments can be given in forms of injections or pills and cream. The injections or pills fight and eradicate the bacteria, stopping it from spreading. The creams are applied of the surface area where the gray membrane is found to kill off the deposits of toxins, clear out the infections and heal and clean out the gray area.

These treatments will continue until tests are carried out and return negative.

Preventive Measures Against Diphtheria

Diphtheria is preventable. Early prevention can take away every chances of your child and an adult getting susceptible and being infected by the bacteria. Preventive measures are through the use of vaccines contained with antibiotics. These vaccines are of two types and for different ages.

1. DTaP

This vaccine is a full-strength dose of Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. The vaccine is an early childhood immunization administered in five series of shots. These series of shots take place at five different ages to build up your child’s immunity against the bacteria. They are administered at the following ages:

  • 2 months old
  • 4 months old
  • 6 months old
  • 15-18 months old
  • 4-6 years old

When given the last dose, the vaccine can last for 10 years before the next vaccine is given. In few cases, your child may be allergic to this vaccine and react negatively. The reactions may be seizures, however, after a while and some resuscitation by the doctor, it will go away.

2. Tdap

Vaccines can only last for 10 years. After the last DTaP vaccine, your child should be immunized again at around age 11-12. The earlier, the better.

Tdap is an immunity booster shot against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. After the first dose at age 12, this vaccine is highly recommended to be given every 10 years to keep boosting your immunity against the disease.


Due to irritability of the infection, the child infected begins to to come down with a lot of signs. The bacterium beats down the immune system rapidly. Some symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Soarness of throat
  • Voice turns hoarse
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Body weakness
  • High fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the neck
  • Thick gray membrane begins to cover the throat and becomes irritational.


The primary cause of diphtheria is the bacteria organism called ‘Corynebacterium Diphtheriae’, or ’Diphtheroid’, particularly for the skin. This bacterium causes a release of toxins which flows through the bloodstream, and in turn irritates the part on which they dwell. Their area of attack is mostly: the throat, the nose, the airway, and the tongue.

The bacterium is contained in whatever fluid that comes out of the infected part and can easily be contacted by another when that fluid touches him/her. The modes of transmission include:

  • Mucus or saliva secretions from the nose and throat
  • The tiny droplets that are breathed into the air.
  • Items used by infected childlike clothes, beddings, etc.
  • Fluids from the skin sores of the infected child.
  • Crowded unhygienic places, with one or more infected persons


1. Is diphtheria contagious?

Yes, it is. Any person who comes in contact with the mucous glands, fluid, or droplets that comes from an infected person can become infected too.

2. Is DTaP or Tdap recommended during pregnancy?

Tdap is recommended to be given to you in between 27 and 36 weeks of your pregnancy, even if you have had the vaccine for the last 10 years. This is because your baby will not be immunized until he is 2 months old, so getting a Tdap with provide your baby protection till he is immunized.

3. Is diphtheria still a problem today?

For developed countries like US and Britain, it rarely occurs because it is a must for every baby to be immunized, and this has been for decades. However, in developing countries, especially in Africa, immunization rates are low and somewhat ineffective, and this makes diphtheria common.

4. What antibiotics are used for diphtheria?

Antibiotics recommended for treating diphtheria; both respiratory and cutaneous, includes erythromycin and penicillin.

5. How do you test for diphtheria?

The starting symptoms of diphtheria can often be conflicted with symptoms of cold or the flu. To diagnose it, doctors perform a swab test by taking the swab from the back of the trust or nose and testing it for Corynebacterium Diphtheriae. For skin or cutaneous diphtheria, a swab is taken from the sore and tested for Diphtheroids.