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Decades ago, Diphtheria was a much feared disease as it was contagious and life-threatening. Diphtheria is a contagious, life threatening bacterial infection that attacks the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. It is caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a bacteria that produces toxin (exotoxin) that flows in the bloodstream. Diphtheria spreads from close contact with an infected person, coughing, sneezing and sharing towels. If not treated in time, the toxin spreads throughout the body and can cause paralysis or heart failure. The bacteria can also live in live open wounds.

Diphtheria was a leading cause of death among children in earlier decades but with the introduction of the Diphtheria vaccine, the instances of diphtheria have come down drastically, in developed nations. In countries with poor sanitation and inadequate medical information, the disease still looms large. Diphtheria usually manifests first as sore throat and fever. Then the infection spreads to lymph glands and tonsils too. A person suffering from diphtheria has pain when swallowing and difficulty in breathing. There is fever and hoarseness in voice. The nose and throat cavities are coated with a thick gray covering - a distinctive feature of diphtheria.

A throat swab will help in diagnosis of diphtheria. A patient will be given antitoxin treatment and hospitalized. Antibiotics are administered to fight infection. The patient will be kept in isolation till he recovers from the infection for fear of spreading the disease. Diphtheria can lead to heart and kidney damage if not treated in time. People living in crowded and unsanitary conditions are at higher risk. Children who are undernourished and have not been vaccinated for diphtheria as well as those with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk of diphtheria.

Diphtheria vaccine

The diphtheria vaccine has been part of the immunization schedule for children since many decades. It is called the DTP vaccine as it is given in combination with tetanus and pertussis. This diphtheria vaccine is a toxin usually given to an infant and followed by booster shots. Older children and adults must also be vaccinated against diphtheria. Sometimes there is a reaction to the diphtheria vaccine. A child may develop swelling and redness at the vaccination spot. These reactions usually disappear in a couple of days. In rare cases, there is an allergic reaction that leads to shock or seizure.


Pertussis or whooping cough is a respiratory tract disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. This disease is highly contagious. Whooping cough can be serious when it affects infants and young children who have not been vaccinated. Pertussis causes thick mucus to develop in the airways. There might be inflammation of the breathing tubes in the lungs.

A patient suffering from pertussis has severe coughing spells. There might be low-grade fever too. The person may make a characteristic whooping sound, that is high pitched while coughing. The cough attacks are worse at night. Cough spells may be accompanied by vomiting. Other symptoms of pertussis include nasal congestion and runny nose. There is likely to be loss of appetite.

Treatment for pertussis includes antibiotics such as azithromycin or erythromycin. Sometimes hospitalization may be required. It takes about 4 - 6 weeks for pertussis infection to clear off with the right treatment and care. Pertussis vaccine immunizes a person from whooping cough. This is part of the immunization schedule for children. Pertussis vaccine is given along with the vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus. This DPT vaccine is given to children and followed up in adult life too.

Tags: #Diphtheria #Diphtheria vaccine #Pertussis
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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: June 25, 2024