Things You Need To Know About Diphtheria

Diphtheria – Things You Need To Know

Diphtheria killed 25 persons in Nigeria's Kano State in just one week.

6 mins read

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lassa fever and Cholera outbreaks,  another disease that adding to Nigeria’s public health challenge is Diphtheria, which killed 25 persons in Kano State in one week.

The national Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) disclosed that Lagos already has confirmed cases which it has responded to while also monitoring the situation in Osun and Yobe States.

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose. Although it spreads easily from one person to another, diphtheria can be prevented through the use of vaccines.

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It can cause severe damage to your kidneys, nervous system, and heart if not treated and can lead to fatality.

Diphtheria is caused by a type of bacteria known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The condition is typically spread through person-to-person contact or through contact with objects that have bacteria on them, such as a cup or used tissue. You may also get diphtheria if you’re around an infected person when they sneeze, cough, or blow their nose.

Sometimes an infected person doesn’t show any signs or symptoms of diphtheria, yet they’re still able to transmit the bacterial infection for up to six weeks after the initial infection.

The parts of the body commonly infected are the nose and throat. Once you’re infected, the bacteria release dangerous substances called toxins. These toxins spread through the bloodstream and often cause a thick, grey coating to form in these areas of the body:

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In some cases, these toxins can also damage other organs, including the heart, brain, and kidneys. This in turn can lead to potentially life-threatening complications, such as:

•Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle
•Kidney failure

However, there are some risk factors for diphtheria disease. Diphtheria disease is still fairly common in developing countries where immunisation rates are low. In these countries, children under age five and people over age 60 are mostly affected by this disease.

People are also at an increased risk of contracting diphtheria if they aren’t up to date on their vaccination doses.

Again, if the country doesn’t provide immunisations, they may have an immune system disorder, such as AIDS
live in unsanitary or crowded conditions.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

Diphtheria disease has some notable symptoms.

These signs of diphtheria often appear within two to five days of contracting the infection. While some people don’t experience any symptoms, others have mild symptoms that are similar to those of the common cold.

The most visible and common symptom of diphtheria is a thick, grey coating on the throat and tonsils. Other common symptoms include:

•Swollen glands in the neck
•Loud, barking cough
•Sore throat
•Bluish skin
•General feeling of uneasiness or discomfort.
Other symptoms may also occur as the infection progresses, including:

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•Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
•Changes in vision
•Slurred speech
•Signs of shock, such as pale and cold skin.

•Sweating, and a rapid heartbeat.

In addition, you may also develop cutaneous diphtheria, or diphtheria of the skin if you have poor hygiene or live in a tropical area. Diphtheria of the skin usually causes ulcers and redness in the affected area.


Diphtheria is a serious condition, therefore requires urgent and aggressive treatment whenever it’s confirmed.

The first step to treatment is the use of an antitoxin injection. This is used to counteract the toxin produced by the bacteria. Make sure to tell your doctor if you suspect you might be allergic to the antitoxin. They may be able to give you small doses of the antitoxin and gradually build up to higher amounts. Then antibiotics such as erythromycin or penicillin will be prescribed for you to help clear up the infection.
Also during the treatment, antibiotics may be prescribed for those close to you.

Diphtheria is preventable with the use of antibiotics and vaccines.

The vaccine for diphtheria is called DTaP. It’s usually given in a single shot along with vaccines for pertussis and tetanus. The DTaP vaccine is administered in a series of five shots. It’s given to children at the following ages trusted Source:

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Two months
Four months
Six months
15 to 18 months
Four to six years

In rare cases, a child might have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This can result in seizures or hives, which will later go away.

Vaccines only last for 10 years, so your child will need to be vaccinated again around age 12.

For adults, it’s recommended that you get a combined diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis booster shot once. Every 10 years afterwards you’ll receive the tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine. Taking these steps can help prevent you or your child from getting diphtheria in the future.

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Peter Okoye, PBA Journalism Mentee
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