Understanding Diphtheria: Symptoms, Causes, & Prevention


Diphtheria, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, can cause severe respiratory issues and other complications. Despite advancements in medicine, it remains a concern in regions with inadequate vaccination coverage. This blog aims to raise awareness about this disease by exploring its symptoms, causes, and prevention methods.

What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a severe contagious bacterial infection caused by strains of bacteria known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This bacterium produces a toxin that damages tissues in your throat, forming thick grey membranes that obstruct breathing and swallowing. While the most common form affects the respiratory system, a less prevalent type causes skin sores.

Here are the types of diphtheria:

  • Classical Respiratory Diphtheria: This prevalent form primarily targets the nose, throat, tonsils, or larynx (voice box). The location of the affected area determines the variation in symptoms.
  • Cutaneous Diphtheria: Rarer but more common in tropical areas or crowded conditions, this type occurs as skin lesions like sores or blisters anywhere on the body.

What are Its Symptoms?

Diphtheria symptoms usually appear 2-5 days after exposure, ranging from mild to severe. Be aware of these warning signs:

  • Sore throat
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Greyish membrane formation in the throat
  • Barking cough
  • Bluish skin coloration (rare)

While antibiotics and other treatment options can treat individuals affected by the bacteria, if left untreated, diphtheria can lead to severe consequences:

  • Blocked airways hindering breathing
  • Heart complications like heart muscle damage
  • Nerve damage causing paralysis
  • Lethargy
  • Kidney problems
  • Lung infections

What Causes Diphtheria?

Diphtheria occurs when the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria infects the respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins that damage tissues, forming a thick grey membrane that impedes breathing and swallowing.

Diphtheria is highly contagious and spreads through:

  • Airborne droplets: Coughing or sneezing releases infected droplets that others can inhale.
  • Contaminated objects: Touching items used by an infected person and coming into contact with your mouth or nose can also transmit the bacteria.

How Can It Be Prevented?

Diphtheria vaccination is the primary and most effective way to prevent the disease. Multiple vaccines are available with varying immunization schedules and booster shots.

  • DTaP Vaccine: This vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). Recommended for children and usually administered in a series of shots throughout infancy and childhood.
  • Tdap Vaccine: A booster shot for adolescents and adults, protecting against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.

While vaccines generally pose minimal risks, individuals may experience mild side effects like fever, soreness at the injection site, and rare allergic reactions.

Take Away

Diphtheria is a serious yet preventable disease. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and importance of diphtheria vaccination, you can effectively safeguard yourselves and your communities from the threat of this infection. If you experience any potential symptoms of this disease, consult a healthcare provider.

Reference: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17870-diphtheria

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