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Diphtheria - Facts and Information

  • Published: 2009-11-13 : Author: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that happens quickly and spreads easily affecting a persons throat and nose.

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Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that happens quickly and spreads easily, affecting a person's throat and nose. Children under the age of five years and adults over the age of sixty are at particular risk of the Diphtheria infection, as well as people who live in unclean and crowded conditions, people who are undernourished, and both adults and children who do not have current immunizations.

Defining Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that happens quickly and spreads easily, affecting a person's throat and nose. Children under the age of five years and adults over the age of sixty are at particular risk of the Diphtheria infection, as well as people who live in unclean and crowded conditions, people who are undernourished, and both adults and children who do not have current immunizations. In America and Europe Diphtheria is rare, although it is still common in developing nations where immunizations are not provided on a routine basis. In the years 1993 and 1994, greater than forty-thousand cases of the infection were reported in a serious outbreak in countries of the former Soviet Union.

The Diphtheria infection is extremely contagious and easily passed from a person who is infected to other people via coughing, sneezing, or even laughing. The infection can spread to others who touch dishes or tissues that have been used by a person that is infected. A person who is infected with Diphtheria can infect others for a period of up to a month, despite experiencing symptoms or not. The amount of time it takes someone to become infected after being exposed to Diphtheria is between two and four days, although it can range from between one and six days.

Forms of Diphtheria

One form of Diphtheria is respiratory, presenting the person who has become infected with a sore throat and a low-grade fever, as well as a membrane that is attached to their tonsils, pharynx, or nose. Swelling of the neck is commonly something else people experience with this infection. The infection may lead to severe difficulties with breathing, blood disorders, heart failure, coma, or death.

In the United States, Diphtheria is very rare because of common and widespread immunizations. The majority of the highly infrequent cases of Diphtheria that do appear in America are occurring among people who are un-vaccinated; particularly in persons who have traveled to areas where the infection is common, as well as in persons who come in close contact with travelers to these areas.

Another form of Diphtheria is the cutaneous, or skin form. Cutaneous Diphtheria is also rare in America and is found among persons who have poor hygiene or live in crowded conditions. Skin infections with Diphtheria are common in tropical countries; they are more contagious than respiratory Diphtheria in these nations. The wounds the infection causes are marked by sores, a scaling rash, or blisters that can appear anywhere on the infected person's body.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

The early stages of Diphtheria might find the infected person mistaking the symptoms they are experiencing for a bad sore throat. A low-grade fever and swollen neck glands are additional symptoms people may experience. The toxin produced by the bacteria may cause a thick coating in the infected person's throat, nose or airway. The coating is commonly a fuzzy black or gray in color, potentially causing breathing difficulties and trouble with swallowing. Formation of this coating in the person's throat, nose or airway differentiates Diphtheria from other infections like strep throat that can cause a sore throat.

Progression of the Diphtheria infection can find an infected person experiencing difficulty with swallowing or breathing. They may complain of a doubling of their vision, and have slurred speech. The person may show signs of going into shock, with pale skin that is cold, a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and an anxious appearance.

People with the Diphtheria infection that has progressed beyond a throat infection find that the toxin spreads through their bloodstream. When this happens it may lead to potentially life-threatening complications which affect organs in their body, such as their kidneys or heart. The toxins that are released affect the hearts ability to pump blood, or the kidney's ability to clear wastes. The toxin may cause damages to nerves, leading to paralysis. Approximately forty to fifty-percent of people who do not receive treatment perish from the infection.

Treatment of Diphtheria

Both children and adults are treated for Diphtheria in the hospital. A throat culture provides confirmation of a diagnosis. The person who has become infected receives an anti-toxin through intravenous injections that neutralizes the Diphtheria toxin circulating through their body. They are also administered antibiotics to kill any remaining Diphtheria bacteria.

Persons with an advanced Diphtheria infection might need a ventilator to assist them with breathing. If the infection has spread to their kidneys, heart, or nervous system, they may require oxygen, intravenous fluids, or heart medications. Because people with Diphtheria are infectious, they must be kept in isolation. Family members, friends, people who are either young or elderly, must all be kept from contacting the infected person.

Upon diagnosing someone with Diphtheria, a doctor has to notify the health department and take steps to treat everyone in the infected person's household who may have been exposed to the infection. Doing so includes assessment of the involved person's immune status, taking throat cultures, and administering booster doses of the Diphtheria vaccine, as well as administering antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

Hospitalization and quick intervention permit the majority of people infected with Diphtheria to recover. Once the anti-toxin and antibiotics have had time to take effect, persons with Diphtheria need to rest in bed for four to six weeks or until they have fully recovered. Bed rest is very important for people who have had their heart affected by the infection. One of the complications of Diphtheria is, 'Myocarditis,' or inflammation of the heart muscle. Once a person has recovered from Diphtheria, they should receive a full course of the Diphtheria vaccine to prevent a recurrence of the infection.

It is extremely important to call a doctor immediately if you or your child has symptoms of Diphtheria, or if you observe these symptoms in another person, or if you or someone you know has been exposed to the infection. Bear in mind that the majority of throat infections are not Diphtheria, particularly in countries that have regular immunizations against the infection like America. If you are not sure whether or not you or your child have been vaccinated against Diphtheria, make an appointment with a doctor to receive it. In 2005 a new vaccine was approved as a single booster vaccination for both adolescents and adults called, 'Tdap.' The Diphtheria vaccine for children is combined with tetanus and acellular pertussis in a triple vaccine referred to as, 'DTaP.' The best way to prevent a Diphtheria infection is through vaccination.


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