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Diphtheria is a disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria. The infection can be spread easily through sneezing and coughing. However, thanks to the widespread use of the vaccine against diphtheria (part of the combination diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis [DTaP] vaccine), there are very few cases of diphtheria in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms

Diphtheria can cause a mild fever, a sore throat, and chills a few days after infection with the bacteria. A nasal discharge, fatigue, and a thick gray membrane covering the throat may develop as well. If not treated promptly, the infection can spread a toxin or poison throughout the body and cause very serious problems, including difficulty swallowing, paralysis, and heart failure.

What You Can Do

Diphtheria must be treated immediately with an antitoxin against the diphtheria toxin. Your pediatrician will also prescribe antibiotics such as erythromycin or penicillin in combination with the antitoxin.

What Is the Prognosis?

Without prompt and proper treatment, some people with diphtheria die from the disease.

Last Updated
Immunizations &Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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