Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose . Although diphtheria spreads easily from one person to another, it can be prevented by using vaccines.
What Causes Diphtheria?
Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria, the condition is typically spread through contact from person to person or through contact with objects contaminated by the bacteria, such as a glass or cutlery.
It is also possible to contract diphtheria if an infected person sneezes, coughs, or blows his nose next to another. Even if an infected person has no signs or symptoms of diphtheria, they are still able to transmit the bacterial infection up to six weeks after the initial infection.
The bacterium usually settles on the nose and throat, and once the infection is present, the bacteria release dangerous substances called toxins . These toxins spread through the bloodstream and often cause thick, gray plaques on the nose, throat, tongue and upper airways. In more severe cases, severe swelling of the neck may occur, with enlarged lymph nodes. This can cause difficulty in breathing or a complete blockage of breathing.
These toxins can also harm other organs, including the heart, brain and kidneys. This can lead to potentially fatal complications, such as myocarditis, paralysis or kidney failure.
Diphtheria Risk Factors
Anyone is susceptible to acquiring diphtheria. However, some groups have a higher risk:
- Children and adults who have not received the vaccine
- People traveling to a region where there is no immunization against diphtheria
- People who have some type of immune system disorder, such as AIDS
- People who live in overcrowded conditions or in environments that are harmful to health
In Brazil, children are vaccinated against diphtheria, so the disease is considered rare. However, diphtheria is still quite common in developing countries where immunization rates are low.
In these countries, children under 5 and people over 60 are particularly at risk for contracting diphtheria.
Signs of diphtheria usually appear within two to five days after the infection occurs. Some people do not experience symptoms, while others have mild symptoms similar to the common cold.
- The most visible and common symptom of diphtheria is a thick, grayish membrane covering the throat and tonsils. Other common symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Swollen lymph nodes (enlarged lymph nodes) in your neck
- Sore throat and hoarseness
- Bluish skin
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nasal discharge
Additional symptoms may occur as the infection progresses, including:
- Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
- Changes in vision
- Slurred speech
- Shock signals such as pale, cold skin, sweating and a fast heartbeat
It is possible to develop cutaneous diphtheria (or skin diphtheria as it is called), if you have poor hygiene or live in a tropical area. Diphtheria of the skin usually causes ulcers and redness in the affected area.
How is Diphtheria Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of diphtheria is made on the basis of a physical examination . The doctor will check for grayish plaques in the tonsils and throat, as well as swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. You will also ask questions about your medical history and the symptoms you experience.
To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will take a sample of the affected tissue, which can be either from the throat or from the skin and send it to a laboratory for testing.
Diphtheria is a serious condition , so the doctor will start treatment quickly and aggressively. The first step in treatment is the injection of antitoxin , injected into a vein or muscle. It is used to neutralize the toxin produced by bacteria that are already circulating in the body.
It is important to inform the doctor about the existence of any type of allergy to antitoxin . With this, the treatment can be started with small doses, and in the course of it be increased gradually.
The doctor will also administer antibiotics, such as erythromycin and penicillin , to help control the infection. Medical personnel can also remove some of the membranes that form in the throat, if they are obstructing breathing.
During treatment, the doctor may suggest the patient’s hospitalization, so that the patient avoids infecting other people, especially those in his daily life.
Only a doctor can tell you which medicine is best for each case, as well as the correct dosage and duration of treatment. Always follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter and never self-medicate.
Do not stop using the medicine without consulting a doctor beforehand, and if you take it more than once or in much larger quantities than prescribed, follow the instructions on the package insert.
How is Diphtheria Prevention Done?
The best way to prevent diphtheria is with vaccination, which can be triple bacterial or pentavalent . The classic triple bacterial vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) is indicated for children up to seven years of age. After that date, the dTpa vaccine (triple acellular bacterial of the adult type) is used.
There is also the pentavalent vaccine , indicated for active immunization of children from two months of age against diphtheria, tetanus , whooping cough , hepatitis B and diseases caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Both vaccines are available on the official calendar of the Ministry of Health and are given to children of the following ages:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4 to 6 years
Vaccines last for 10 years, after which the child will need to be vaccinated again at around 12 years of age. In rare cases , a child may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This can result in seizures or skin allergies, which will disappear after a few days.
People who did not get this vaccine when children should seek immunization, mainly health professionals, garbage collectors, contaminated waste and water, food and beverages, firefighters, military, police, manicurists and podiatrists, aviation professionals, professionals who travel a lot, professionals who work with children or animals. In these groups, vaccination is especially indicated.
See Also: Pregnancy Vaccines – Which ones to take
My name is Dr. Alexis Hart I am 38 years old, I am the mother of 3 beautiful children! Different ages, different phases 16 years, 12 years and 7 years. In love with motherhood since always, I found it difficult to make my dreams come true, and also some more after I was already a mother.
Since I imagined myself as a mother, in my thoughts everything seemed to be much easier and simpler than it really was, I expected to get pregnant as soon as I wished, but it wasn’t that simple. The first pregnancy was smooth, but my daughter’s birth was very troubled. Joana was born in 2002 with a weight of 2930kg and 45cm, from a very peaceful cesarean delivery but she had already been born with congenital pneumonia due to a broken bag not treated with antibiotics even before delivery.