Diphtheria is a life-threatening infection that spreads easily. The infection most commonly attacks the tonsils, throat, and nose.


Diphtheria is caused specific bacteria. The infection spreads from person to person through contact with:
  • Droplets of moisture that are coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person and breathed in by a non-infected person
  • Personal items, such as tissues or drinking glasses, that have been used by an infected person
  • Skin that is infected with diphtheria

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of getting diphtheria include:
  • Having never been immunized against diphtheria
  • Not having had a booster dose in the past 10 years
  • Having a compromised immune system


Signs and symptoms of diphtheria usually begin 2 to 5 days after a person is infected. The most obvious sign of diphtheria is a gray covering on the back of the throat. The covering can detach and block the airway. If left untreated, the bacteria can produce a poison that spreads through the body causing damage to the heart, nerves, and kidneys.Not everyone who gets diphtheria shows signs of illness, though they may be able to infect others. Symptoms include:
  • Sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Fever up to 103°F
  • Gray covering on the back of the throat
  • Cough, possibly a barking cough
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weakness
  • Skin infection
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph node
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diphtheria will be suspected if the throat and tonsils are covered with a gray membrane.Your doctor may need to test to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done by collecting a swab for culture or a tissue sample.

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