Diphtheria - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of your nose and throat. It is a rare disease in developed countries, however, in developing countries, it still persists due to inadequate immunization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, more than 16,000 cases were reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) which indicated that diphtheria is still a problem and more work has to be done for total eradication.


What causes diphtheria?


Diphtheria is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It spreads by close personal contact and is highly contagious. It can transmit to others when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Also, it can be transmitted if the infected person has touched a surface and then someone else touches that surface. 


The good news:


The good news is that diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease. The diphtheria vaccine was introduced in the 1920s and has served as a revolution in preventing diphtheria. The infection rates dropped drastically after the invention of the vaccine.


Who is at risk for getting diphtheria?


Poor Immunization


Vaccination is the only practical and best way to stay protected from diphtheria. It is a part of the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) and is administered at the age of six weeks along with other vaccines like tetanus and pertussis followed by two more doses. In countries where immunization is poor, diphtheria can be a problem.


Immunosuppressive states


The body's immune system is responsible for fighting off germs and bacteria. When due to some reason, the immune system is suppressed and not working properly, it can give chance to many organisms to cause infections. In diseases like AIDS, chemotherapy due to cancer, or after organ transplantation, the immune system is suppressed making one vulnerable to infections. Diphtheria could be one of them.


Signs and symptoms


  • The signs and symptoms of diphtheria include:

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Nasal discharge

  • A grayish-white membrane covering the back of the mouth

  • Enlarged glands

  • Difficulty breathing 

  • Rapid breathing


Complications Of Diphtheria


Mechanical Complications

 

Airway obstruction:

Diphtheria forms a thick membrane at the back of the throat, thereby, constricting the airway and making breathing and swallowing difficult.


Complications due to toxin release


Corynebacterium diphtheriae releases a toxin that damages primarily the following organs:


The nerves:

Nerve damage results in muscular paralysis.


The kidneys:

Damage to the kidneys results in kidney failure.


Heart damage:

Damage to the heart can cause a dilated heart (Cardiomyopathy), Inflammation of the heart tissues (endocarditis, myocarditis) disturbance in heart rhythm (dysrhythmia), etc.


Treatment of Diphtheria:

The treatment of Diphtheria involves mainly two things:


Antitoxin:

Diphtheria antitoxin is given to counteract the harmful effects of the Diphtheria toxin.


Antibiotics:

Since Diphtheria is a bacteria, antibiotics are administered to kill it and treat the disease.


Moreover, supportive care like mechanical ventilation may be given.


Prevention of Diphtheria:


The best prevention for diphtheria is vaccination. It is given in childhood and booster doses are recommended when traveling to areas where diphtheria is present. 


Conclusion


Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of your nose and throat. It is a rare disease in developed countries, however, in developing countries, it still persists due to inadequate immunization.


Diphtheria is a serious infection that affects the whole body. However, it can be prevented greatly by proper immunization. Lack of awareness and immunization is the reason diphtheria still prevails in the world. With proper awareness and immunization, we can hope to eradicate this deadly disease from the world.


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