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Diphtheriais an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diptheriae.
There are two types of diphtheria; one type affects the respiratory
tract and the other affects the skin. The most common type affects the
tonsils, throat, or nose. Diphtheria is a rare disease in the United
States primarily due to widespread immunization. Cases of diphtheria
most commonly occur among unvaccinated or under-vaccinated persons. The
last reported case of diphtheria in Maryland occurred in 1973, and
fewer than 5 cases have been reported in the United States in recent
Diphtheria is spread from person-to-person through contact with infected secretions.
Diphtheria may be spread by contact with the secretions from an
infected person’s nose, throat, skin, eyes and lesions. Rarely,
diphtheria may also be spread through contact with articles soiled by
the discharge from a lesion. A person with diphtheria is usually
contagious for up to 2 weeks, but rarely more than 4 weeks. An infected
person should remain in isolation until two lab tests taken 24 hours
apart are negative 24 hours after antibiotics are stopped.
Symptoms to look for include:
Symptoms may occur 2 to 5 days (1-10 days range) after exposure, and may occasionally take longer to appear.
Laboratory testing is needed to confirm a diphtheria infection.
People who think they have diphtheria should see a doctor or their local health department immediately
to be tested. Doctors can confirm the diagnosis by taking a sample of
the tissue from the throat with a swab. Doctors can also take a sample
of tissue from an infected wound and have it tested in a laboratory to
check for the type of diphtheria that affects the skin.
See a doctor for treatment.
If a doctor suspects diphtheria, treatment should begin immediately,
even before the results of the laboratory tests are available. The
infected person should be given an anti-toxin to stop the diphtheria
toxin that is circulating in the body. Certain antibiotics should also
be prescribed to treat the infection. Check with your doctor or local
health department for advice.
A person in close contact with someone who has diphtheria should
receive treatment as well. Close contacts should be quickly identified
and monitored for symptoms of diphtheria. Contacts should be tested for
diphtheria, given antibiotics, and an age-appropriate dose of
diphtheria containing vaccine. Close contacts may include:
Diphtheria can be prevented with diphtheria vaccine.
Every child should get diphtheria vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18
months of age, and another dose at 4 to 6 years age before entering
school. A booster dose of diphtheria vaccine is also recommended at 11
to 12 years of age if it has been 5 years since the last dose.
Age-appropriate vaccination against diphtheria is required for entry
into Maryland childcare institutions and schools. For additional
information about diphtheria vaccine, please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/diphtheria/default.htm#clinical.
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