What are the Symptoms of Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It primarily affects the throat and upper respiratory tract and can produce a range of symptoms, some of which can be severe.

Common symptoms of diphtheria include:

  • Sore Throat: Diphtheria often begins with a sore throat that can be mild at first but may rapidly worsen.
  • Low-Grade Fever: Many individuals with diphtheria develop a low-grade fever, typically below 102°F (38.9°C).
  • Swollen Neck Glands: The lymph nodes in the neck may become enlarged and tender.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: As the infection progresses, it can become increasingly difficult to swallow due to throat pain and swelling.
  • White or Grayish Membrane: One of the hallmark signs of diphtheria is the formation of a thick, grayish-white membrane in the throat and tonsils. This membrane can obstruct the airway and make breathing difficult.
  • Hoarseness or Voice Changes: The presence of the membrane and inflammation in the throat can cause hoarseness or changes in the voice.
  • Cough: A dry, hacking cough may develop as the infection affects the respiratory tract.
  • Weakness and Fatigue: Diphtheria can cause weakness and fatigue as the body fights the infection.

It’s important to note that not all individuals infected with the diphtheria bacterium will develop the characteristic membrane in the throat. In some cases, particularly in vaccinated individuals, symptoms may be milder or absent, but the person can still spread the bacterium to others.

Diphtheria can be a life-threatening condition, primarily due to the risk of airway obstruction caused by the membrane. In severe cases, complications can include myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and nerve damage.

If diphtheria is suspected, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention. Diphtheria can be treated with antibiotics, antitoxin therapy, and supportive care. Vaccination against diphtheria as part of routine childhood immunizations has been highly effective in preventing the disease, but it’s still important to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical care promptly if you suspect an infection. Additionally, diphtheria is a notifiable disease in many countries, meaning healthcare providers are required to report cases to public health authorities to help prevent its spread.