Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Diphtheria Overview

What is diphtheria?
A person with diphtheria has an infection caused by the bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheriae. These bacteria infect the larynx, tonsils, and throat. Corynebacterium bacteria produce a toxin that destroys tissue in the throat and larynx. Rarely, diphtheria can spread to the heart, kidneys and nervous system. Due to effective childhood vaccination programs, diphtheria is an extremely rare disease in the US.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?
Common symptoms of diphtheria include sore throat and a white or grey film that covers the back of the throat. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing, cough, runny nose, fever, fatigue, and swollen glands in the neck.

How does the doctor treat diphtheria?
Treatment for diphtheria includes supplemental oxygen, diphtheria antitoxin, antibiotics, respiratory therapy, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications for pain.

Continue to Diphtheria Incidence

Last Updated: Aug 25, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Diphtheria References
  1. Matheson AJ, Goa KL. Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis vaccine adsorbed (Triacelluvax; DTaP3-CB): a review of its use in the prevention of Bordetella pertussis infection. Paediatr Drugs. 2000 Mar-Apr;2(2):139-59. [10937466]
  2. McCluney NA, McKerrow WS. Should we be concerned about diphtheria in the UK? Surgeon. 2004 Aug;2(4):234-5. [15570833]
  3. Pichichero ME, Rennels MB, Edwards KM, Blatter MM, Marshall GS, Bologa M, Wang E, Mills E. Combined tetanus, diphtheria, and 5-component pertussis vaccine for use in adolescents and adults. JAMA. 2005 Jun 22;293(24):3003-11. [15933223]
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