|Other encyclopedia topics:||A-Ag Ah-Ap Aq-Az B-Bk Bl-Bz C-Cg Ch-Co Cp-Cz D-Di Dj-Dz E-Ep Eq-Ez F G H-Hf Hg-Hz I-In Io-Iz J K L-Ln Lo-Lz M-Mf Mg-Mz N O P-Pl Pm-Pz Q R S-Sh Si-Sp Sq-Sz T-Tn To-Tz U V W X Y Z 0-9|
|Contents of this page:|
Definition Return to top
Diphtheria is an acute infectious disease caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
Causes Return to top
Diphtheria spreads through respiratory droplets (such as those produced by a cough or sneeze) of an infected person or someone who carries the bacteria but has no symptoms. Diphtheria can also be spread by contaminated objects or foods (such as contaminated milk).
The bacteria most commonly infects the nose and throat. The throat infection causes a gray to black, tough, fiber-like covering, which can block the airways. In some cases, diphtheria may first infect the skin, producing skin lesions.
Once infected, dangerous substances produced by the bacteria can spread through your bloodstream to other organs, such as the heart, and cause significant damage.
Because of widespread and routine childhood DPT immunizations, diphtheria is now rare in many parts of the world. There are fewer than five cases of diphtheria a year in the United States.
Risk factors include crowded environments, poor hygiene, and lack of immunization.
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms usually occur 2 to 5 days after you have come in contact with the bacteria.
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Exams and Tests Return to top
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and look inside your mouth. This may reveal a gray to black covering (pseudomembrane) in the throat, enlarged lymph glands, and swelling of the neck or larynx.
Tests used may include:
Treatment Return to top
If the health care provider thinks you have diphtheria, treatment should be started immediately, even before test results are available.
Diphtheria antitoxin is given as a shot into a muscle or through an IV (intravenous line). The infection is then treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or erythromycin.
People with diphtheria may need to stay in the hospital while the antitoxin is being received. Other treatments may include:
Anyone who has come into contact with the infected person should receive an immunization or booster shots against diphtheria. Protective immunity lasts only 10 years from the time of vaccination, so it is important for adults to get a booster of tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine every 10 years.
Those without symptoms but who carry diphtheria should be treated with antibiotics.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Diphtheria may be mild or severe. Some people may not have symptoms. In others, the disease can slowly get worse.
The death rate is 10%. Recovery from the illness is slow.
Possible Complications Return to top
The most common complication is inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). The nervous system is also frequently and severely affected, which may result in temporary paralysis.
The diphtheria toxin can also damage the kidneys.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Contact your health care provider if you have come in contact with a person who has diphtheria.
Remember that diphtheria is a rare disease. Diphtheria is also a reportable disease, and any cases are often publicized in the newspaper or on television. This helps you to know if diphtheria is present in your area.
Prevention Return to top
Routine childhood immunizations and adult boosters prevent the disease. See: Diphtheria immunization (vaccine)
References Return to top
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. Recommended immunization schedules for children and adolescents -- United States, 2008. Pediatrics. 2008;121(1):219-220.
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, October 2007 - September 2008. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(10):725-729.Update Date: 6/17/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.