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(Corynebacterium diphtheriae)

Diphtheria is readily spread in areas where there is overcrowding combined with poor hygiene particularly in tropical climates within developing countries where vaccination rates are low. The spread of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria  occurs through either contaminated respiratory droplets (i.e sneezing) or contaminated personal/household items.  The Diphtheria bacteria release a toxin into the host's body which infects the upper airways causing a membrane to grow across the windpipe. Occasionally diptheria also affects the skin.


Diphtheria is a very serious and highly contagious bacterial infection. It affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat that is clinically diagnosed by the presence of a grey coloured membrane covering the throat or through laboratory investigations for suspected cases.

In Australia, diphtheria is rare however in developing countries with limited healthcare or vaccine options, diphtheria is still prevalent in developing nations with over crowding and poor hygiene. While diphtheria can be treated with medications and prevented through vaccines and good hygiene practices, advanced stages of the disease

Diphtheria can be treated with medications but still remains potentially lethal. But in advanced stages, diphtheria can damage the heart, kidneys and nervous system. Even with treatment, diphtheria can be deadly, especially in children.


Diphtheria is spread through

  • Airborne droplets when an infected person's coughs or sneezes to release a mist of contaminated droplets for persons to inhale. This occurs rapidly in crowded conditions.

  • Contaminated personal or household items can also infect people who touch or handle such items such as used tissues, hand towels etc or even an infected wound.

  • Those infected with diphtheria bacteria who haven't been treated can infect un-vaccinated persons who have not had the diphtheria vaccine (whether or not they show symptoms)

Those most at risk of being infected with diphtheria include:

  • People who do not have vaccinations against Diphtheria.

  • Those living in crowded or unsanitary conditions

  • People who travel to countries or areas where diphtheria infections are more common.


When the bacteria permeates and attaches to the respiratory system lining, it creates a toxin that kills healthy tissues and causes:

  • Weakness

  • Sore throat

  • Mild fever

  • Swollen glands in the neck


Within 2 - 3 days, the dead respiratory tissue forms a thick gray coating that can build up in the throat or nose referred to as a "pseudomembrane" that covers the nose, throat, tonsils and voice box causing swallowing and breathing difficulties. If left untreated, the toxin enters the blood stream causing damage to vital organs such as the

 heart, nerves, and kidneys. Further, diphtheria can also infect the skin causing open sores and ulcers but this rarely leads to other severe diseases.


Diphtheria infection is treated with through the administration of:

  • The diphtheria antitoxin medication injected intravenously or in the muscle.

  • Antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin to kill bacteria infections in the body and reduce the time in which the person is contagious.

  • People with diphtheria often need to be hospitalised.

  • Breathing tubes may need to be placed into the airway to assist breathing.

  • Bed rest and nutrition are essential to recovery.


There are several types of vaccines for Diphtheria in Australia depending upon your age and situation. Diphtheria vaccines for children under 10 years old include:

  • Hexaxim

  • Infanrix

  • Infanrix hexa

  • Infanrix IPV

  • Quadracel

  • Tripacel

Diphtheria vaccines for adults, teenagers and children over 10 years old include:

  • ADT Booster

  • Adacel

  • Adacel Polio

  • Boostrix

  • Boostrix-IPV

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