Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection that generally affects kids below 5 years of age and adults over 60. The disease affects primarily the mucosal membrane of the nose and throat. A vital sign of the disease is the presence of a thick grey color sheet of mucus that covers the back of the throat and obstructs the airway.
Since diphtheria manifests itself in the form of common cold and sore throat, it can easily mislead anyone. From there, the disease progresses with swollen glands, fever, and weakness. The most common causing agent of diphtheria is Corynebacterium Diphtheriae. This bacterium starts multiplying on the mucosal membrane of the throat and can spread via
- Air (cough or sneeze)
- Contaminated items through handover
- Shared household items
- Contact with an infected wound
If a child is not vaccinated for diphtheria, it can contract the bacterial infection from the infected person within 6 weeks.
When C-diphtheriae bacteria infects a person, it releases a toxin that:
- Inhibits protein production in cells
- Causes tissue degeneration
- Leads to mucosal membrane formation
- Circulates throughout the body by infusing into the bloodstream
- Can affect the nerve system
- Reduces platelet count
- Leads to inflammation of the heart
- Produces protein in the urine, leading to severe health issues like proteinuria
Here are a few symptoms of diphtheria:
- Hoarseness of voice
- Swelling and inflammation around the throat
- A grey color pseudomembrane around the lining of nose and throat
- Low fever
- High heart rate
Children with diphtheria infection also show early symptoms like:
- Nasal discharge
C-Diphtheriae infection can be diagnosed by definitive lab tests like blood and tissue culture tests.
As diphtheria is a bacterial infection, it requires immediate care and the following medication is to be administered to the patients:
- Antitoxin is the antidote medicine injected into a muscle or in veins that will neutralize the infection. Before injecting antitoxin, the doctor performs an allergy test.
- Antibiotics like erythromycin and penicillin are administered as a course to kill bacteria and prevent further infections.
- Immunization is also a part of the treatment to avoid relapse of the disease in children.
Diphtheria toxin can lead to the following damages, namely
- Heart damage is known as myocarditis
- Nervous damage is known as neuritis
- The body absorbs toxins and infections can spread to the skin
- Another mucosal membrane such as external ear canal, female genital tissue can also be affected by the bacterial infection
Bacterial infections can be avoided by maintaining personal hygiene. Drinking water from used tumblers, sharing handkerchiefs, etc. should be avoided so that infection does not spread from one person to another. Diphtheria vaccination is available with pediatricians that have to be administered before 6 years of age.
Children are generally immunized for diphtheria across the world and hence, it is very rarely found in developed countries. However, in many underdeveloped countries diphtheria is still a reason for death because if untreated, diphtheria can be fatal.