Exposure to bodily fluids of infected persons


Sore throat, fever, pseudomembrane, skin lesions, myocarditis, peripheral neuropathy

Mortality Rate



Antibiotics, antitoxin

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Perils of Paranoia

Diphtheria bull neck.5325 lores

A young patient with diptheria, courtesy CDC, via Wikipedia

Diptheria is a contagious bacterial infection that can often be complicated by a toxin secreted by the bacteria. Once very common, it has nearly been eliminated in the developed world by widespread vaccination. However, even in developed countries, outbreaks do happen in unvaccinated populations, particularly among the elderly, whose immune response to the vaccination fades more quickly. In the United States, it has become exceedingly rare, with less than one recorded case a year.

Nowadays, diptheria is far more difficult to diagnose. Generally, it can only be confirmed with lab tests or when it is tied to an existing case. A medical history of travel to areas where the disease is still common can also be helpful. One of the characteristics of the disease is a swollen neck, although the existence of pseudomembranes can also be helpful in a diagnosis. However, treatment should be started even if the disease is suspected. The bacteria will respond to narrow spectrum antibiotics (which also prevent contagion), but the toxin associated with some cases must be treated with antitoxin.

Most cases are mild and merely require bed rest and antibiotics. However, the disease can result in swelling of the lymph nodes and blockage of the airways, leading to difficulty breathing. This should be treated as a medical emergency as patients will often require intubation or even a tracheotomy. The toxin can also lead to paralysis, requiring the assistance of a respirator. Young children and adults over 40 are particularly succeptible to complications.

Diptheria at NIH

Diptheria at Wikipedia

Diptheria at Mayo Clinic

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