Overview

Diphtheria (dif-THEER-e-uh) is a serious bacterial infection usually affecting the mucous membranes of your nose and throat. Diphtheria typically causes a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and weakness. But the hallmark sign is a sheet of thick, gray material covering the back of your throat, which can block your airway, causing you to struggle for breath.

Diphtheria is extremely rare in the United States and other developed countries, thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease.

Medications are available to treat diphtheria. However, in advanced stages, diphtheria can damage your heart, kidneys and nervous system. Even with treatment, diphtheria can be deadly — up to 3 percent of people who get diphtheria die of it. The rate is higher for children under 15.

Dec. 08, 2016
References
  1. Ferri FF. Diphtheria. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2017. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  2. Barroso LF, et al. Epidemiology, pathophysiology of diphtheria. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  3. Barroso LF, et al. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of diphtheria. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  4. Diptheria. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/gram-positive-bacilli/diphtheria. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  5. Birth-18 years and catch-up immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  6. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years and older — United States, 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6504a5.htm. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.
  7. Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine information statement. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/tdap.html. Accessed Sept. 23, 2016.