Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium Diphtheria that mainly affects the nose and throat. It spreads easily and comes on quickly. People living in crowded or unclean conditions, those who aren’t properly nourished, and children and adults who don’t have up-to-date immunizations are at risk.

What are the symptoms of Diphtheria?

Diphtheria bacteriaWithin two to ten days of being infected, most people will have a sore throat, often accompanied by a low-grade fever and swollen neck glands. After this, a thick gray membrane can form in the nose and throat that can cause breathing and swallowing problems.

Diphtheria bacteria releases a toxin that can cause serious systemic illness. Symptoms include double vision, slurred speech, and shock. Serious complications include suffocation, paralysis, heart damage, and death. With treatment, most people with Diphtheria survive, but recovery is often slow. Up to 10 percent of people with Diphtheria die.

Diphtheria can also cause a highly contagious skin infection called coetaneous Diphtheria. Symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling at the infection site. Ulcers covered by a gray membrane may also develop.

How can I get Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is highly contagious and spreads easily. You can get in from breathing in droplets caused by an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. You can also get it by handling contaminated personal or household objects, or if you touch an infected wound.

Some people who are infected do not show any symptoms but will remain infectious for up to four weeks. Others may become chronic carriers.

Where can I get Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is endemic in some parts of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Because of routine childhood immunizations, it is far less common in developed countries like Canada although individual cases do occur in unvaccinated people.

If you will be travelling you should be up to date with Diphtheria immunization before you leave.

What vaccines are available for Diphtheria?

The Diphtheria vaccine is usually combined with other vaccines. The Td vaccine immunizes against Tetanus and Diphtheria, and the Tdap vaccine immunizes against whooping cough (Pertussis), Tetanus, and Diphtheria. Diphtheria may also be combined with vaccines for Hepatitis B, Polio, or Haemophilus Influenza type B.

How many shots will I need?

If you were vaccinated in childhood, a booster shot is recommended every ten years. If you have not been immunized, or have not completed your immunization your health care provider will advise you of the appropriate schedule to ensure you are adequately protected against Diphtheria.

Will I need a booster?

Routine booster doses of Td vaccine are recommended for adults every ten years. Adults who have not previously received the Tdap vaccine should receive a single dose as a replacement for a Td booster. Booster shots are particularly important if you travel to an area where Diphtheria is common.

How can I prevent Diphtheria?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent Diphtheria.

See a doctor right away if you think you’ve been exposed to someone who has Diphtheria. The doctor will test you and may also give you a prescription for antibiotics. These will help to protect you from getting the disease. You may also need a booster dose of the Diphtheria vaccine.

What is the treatment for Diphtheria?

If you have contracted Diphtheria, doctors will treat you with antibiotics and the Diphtheria antitoxin. You may also need supportive care such as airway and cardiac monitoring. Your close contacts may also require antibiotics to prevent infection.

Find out more information on Diphtheria from our Vancouver Travel Clinic or any of our other 18 Travel Clinic locations.