Diphtheria: what it is, symptoms and prevention

Diphtheria is a relatively rare but serious infectious disease that causes inflammation and airway damage, and may also affect the skin, and is more common in children aged 1 to 4 years, although it can occur at all ages.This disease is caused by the bacteriumCorynebacterium diphtheriae , which produces toxins that pass into the bloodstream and can reach various parts of the body, but usually affect the nose, throat, tongue and airways. More rarely, toxins can also affect other organs such as the heart, brain or kidneys, for example.

Diphtheria can be easily transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing of infected persons, for example, and in some cases due to the consumption of contaminated food or contact with bacteria-infected clothing and toys.

Treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent damage to the affected organs and to facilitate the elimination of the bacteria and is usually done with antibiotics prescribed by a general practitioner or infectious disease specialist.

Main symptoms

Signs and symptoms that may indicate a diphtheria infection are:

  • Formation of grayish plaques in the tonsil region;
  • Inflammation and sore throat, especially when swallowing;
  • Swelling of the neck with painful languages;
  • High fever, greater than 38ºC;
  • Runny nose with blood;
  • Wounds and red spots on the skin;
  • Bluish color on the skin due to lack of oxygen in the blood;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Runny nose;
  • Headache;
  • Difficulty breathing.

Symptoms appear 3 to 6 days after exposure to the bacterium, and it is recommended to go to the emergency room as soon as the first symptoms of suspicion appear, so that the infection can be treated and thus worsened and spread of the disease to the patient. other people.

Diphtheria is an infectious disease, meaning it can be transmitted from person to person easily, especially when speaking, coughing, sneezing or coming into contact with a person infected with the bacterium.

How to confirm the diagnosis

Usually the diagnosis of diphtheria starts with a physical evaluation by the doctor, but tests may also be ordered to confirm the infection. Thus, it is common for a doctor to order a blood test and a throat secretion culture, which should come from one of the throat plaques and should be collected by a trained practitioner.

The throat secretion culture aims to identify the presence of the bacterium and, when positive, an antibiogram is done to define which antibiotic is best indicated to treat the infection. Due to the bacteria’s ability to spread rapidly through the bloodstream, a doctor may request a blood culture to identify if the infection has already reached the blood.

How is the treatment done?

Treatment for diphtheria is according to medical advice, and antibiotics are usually indicated for the purpose of eliminating the bacteria, such as Penicillin or Erythromycin, and rest.It usually takes a long time to recover from the infection, and when symptoms are more severe, it may be necessary to have the treatment done at the hospital, and even breathing with the aid of braces may be necessary. Learn more details about  treatment for diphtheria.

How to prevent infection

The main form of prevention of diphtheria is through vaccination which, in addition to protecting against diphtheria, also protects against tetanus and whooping cough. This vaccine should be given at 2, 4 6 and 15 months of age, and should be boosted at 4 and then every 10 years. Learn more about  diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.

If a person has come into contact with a patient with diphtheria, it is important to go to the hospital for diphtheria antitoxin injection and to prevent aggravation and transmission of the disease to others. Although more common in children, adults who do not have the diphtheria vaccine or have a weakened immune system are more susceptible toCorynebacterium diphtheriae infection.

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