is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening infection. It is caused by a bacterium called
Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The germ produces a toxin that can spread from the site of infection to other tissues in the body. Diphtheria usually affects the throat and nose. In serious cases, it may affect the nervous system and heart.
Diphtheria spreads easily from person to person by coughing or sneezing. People nearby breathe in the infected droplets. In rare cases, they come into direct contact with excretions from an infected person’s mouth, nose, throat, or skin.
Because of a widespread immunization program, diphtheria is now rare in the US.
Symptoms usually begin 2-4 days following exposure.
Early symptoms include:
Swelling of the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue on both sides of the neck (known as “bullneck”)
Difficulty swallowing or breathing
Later symptoms may include:
such as pale cold skin, rapid heartbeat, and sweating
The toxin produced by the bacterium may cause a coating to form in the nose, throat, or airway. This is what causes difficulty breathing or swallowing. In cases that spread beyond the throat, the toxin can cause damage to the heart or kidneys. It can also cause nerve damage and lead to
paralysis. Since untreated cases can be fatal, people need to be hospitalized and treated right away.
Treatment consists of an antitoxin and antibiotics. Some people may also need a respirator to help them breath. Bed rest is needed for about 4-6 weeks. Diphtheria booster shots will be needed.
What Is the Diphtheria Vaccine?
The diphtheria vaccine is an inactivated toxin called a toxoid.
Although it is available as a single vaccine, it is normally given in combination with the
vaccines. Together they are known as the DTaP vaccine (for children) and Tdap (for adolescents and adults). In children who cannot have the pertussis part of the vaccine, the DT (diphtheria and tetanus) vaccine is used.
The vaccine is injected into the muscle.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
All children (with few exceptions) should receive the vaccine, usually in the form of the DTaP shot. The regular schedule (for children and adults) is as follows:
DTaP vaccines at 2, 4, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age
Booster dose of Tdap given at 11 or 12 years old—This is for children who have not already had the Td booster.
Those aged 13-18 years who missed the above booster dose or received Td only can receive one dose of Tdap 5 years after the last dose.
Booster of Tdap (one time dose for ages 19-64 years) or Td (every 10 years) to provide continued protection
For children aged 4 months to 6 years who have not yet received the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following catch-up schedule:
Minimum Interval Between Doses
First and second dose
Second and third dose
Third and fourth dose
Fourth and fifth dose
The fifth dose is not needed if the fourth dose was given at age 4 years or older.
DTaP is not for people aged 7 years or older.
Unvaccinated children (aged seven years and older) and adults should get the vaccine.
People who meet the following criteria should also get the vaccine:
Adults who expect to have close contact with an infant younger than 12 months should get a dose of Tdap (with a waiting time of two years since the last dose of Td)
Healthcare workers who have direct patient contact with hospitals or clinics should get a dose of Tdap (with a waiting time of two years since the last dose of Td)
If last dose of Td was 10 years ago or longer, they should get a dose of Td
If last dose of Td was less than 10 years ago, they should get a dose of Tdap after giving birth
What Are the Risks Associated With the Diphtheria Vaccine?
Most people tolerate it well, but the diphtheria vaccine sometimes causes:
Mild side effects: soreness or redness at the site of the injection, a low-grade fever, fatigue, general irritability, lack of appetite, and vomiting
More serious complications:
Rare: allergic reactions, crying for over three hours, and high fever
(eg, Tylenol) is sometimes given to reduce pain and fever that may occur after getting a vaccine. In infants, the medicine may weaken the vaccine's effectiveness. Discuss the risks and benefits of taking acetaminophen with the doctor.
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
There are two circumstances where the risks of the vaccine outweigh its benefits:
Severe brain disorder (encephalitis) occurring within seven days
Since the diphtheria vaccine is generally given as DTaP, it can be hard to determine which component is causing a problem. It is usually best to avoid all three vaccines if there are serious side effects.
If your child has any of these reactions, you should get medical care right away:
Fever greater than 105ºF (40.5ºC)
Severe swelling of the entire limb used for the vaccination
shock-like state (unresponsive with low blood pressure)
Persistent, inconsolable crying lasting more than three hours
Convulsions, with or without fever, occurring within three days
If your child has a moderate to severe illness, wait until he has recovered before getting the vaccine.
What Other Ways Can Diphtheria Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
Prevention depends on getting the vaccine and responding quickly to outbreaks.
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
Suspected cases of diphtheria need to be reported right away to public health authorities.
In the event of a suspected or confirmed outbreak, only close contacts are considered to be at risk. For close contacts, treatment includes:
Getting a dose right away if you have had fewer than three doses
Getting a booster dose if you have not had a dose in five years
Having samples taken for lab tests, taking antibiotics, and being followed closely for seven days (even if you have been vaccinated)
10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Prymula R, Siegrist C, Chlibek R, et al. Effect of prophylactic paracetamol administration at time of vaccination on febrile reactions and antibody responses in children: two open-label, randomised controlled trials.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a