What is diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a very serious respiratory infection caused by a bacteria. Fortunately it is now very rare in Canada because of immunization programs.
Diphtheria is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of diphtheria?
- mild fever
- sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling generally unwell
- loss of appetite
- a thick greyish-white material covering the back of the throat
Diphtheria can progress to difficulty breathing, blocked airway and suffocation, especially in young children. It can also affect the skin causing pain, redness and swelling. Ulcers covered by a thick grey material may also develop.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is diphtheria spread?
The bacteria is spread from person to person by droplets that are produced when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by having contact with items that have been soiled by saliva and secretions (fluids) from the respiratory system such as tissues or by sharing personal items such as drinking glasses or eating utensils.
The infection spreads easily among people who are not immunized. It usually takes 2 to 5 days after infection for symptoms to appear, but they can also appear 1 to 10 days after infection.
How is diphtheria treated?
Treatment must be started immediately and includes antibiotic medications. Antibiotics help kill the bacteria in the body. People with diphtheria infection almost always need to be hospitalized.