Diptheria is an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract involving the tonsils, throat and vocal cords. The infection is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diptheriae and is prevalent worldwide. The toxin produced by the bacteria can also cause heart and neurologic illness.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide.

How is it transmitted?

It is spread by contact with airborne respiratory secretions or material contaminated by secretions or lesions from infected individuals.

Is it contagious from person to person?

Yes, it can be spread from person to person for 2-4 weeks if untreated, treatment with antibiotics typically ends shedding of bacteria within 3-4 days.

What is the risk for travelers?

Generally the risk is low; it is higher in developing countries where immunization rates are low.

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Anywhere from 2-5 days after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Infection involving the nose presents with symptoms of clear watery drainage and white patches on the inside of the nose. Most commonly symptoms are of fever, sore throat and presence of whitish to gray membrane on the back of the throat and tonsils. Infection can spread to the vocal cords causing raspy, harsh cough and shortness of breath.

The toxin produced by C. diptheria can affect the heart and nervous system. Involvement of the heart is manifested by changes in heart rhythm and heart failure with symptoms of shortness of breath, easy fatigue, swollen legs, etc. Neurologic disease is manifested by paralysis of the throat muscles resulting in difficulty swallowing followed by paralysis of facial, leg and arm muscles in a descending fashion.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

The bacteria can be cultured from lesions.

Is there any treatment?

Antitoxin and antibiotics like penicillin – G and erythromycin are used in treatment.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Update your primary vaccines.

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