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Diphtheria is a serious infection of the nose and throat caused by the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacterium

Diphtheria now is very rare in Canada because of immunization, but continues to cause outbreaks in other countries.

Since 1998 there has only been one confirmed case of diphtheria in BC. 

For more information about cases of Diphtheria in British Columbia see the most recent Annual Summary of Reportable Diseases.


Information for Health Professionals 

Diphtheria is a very serious infection that can affect your nose and throat or skin. It can also spread through the body and damage the heart and central nervous system.         


Diphtheria in your nose and throat can cause problems breathing. Symptoms may include:

  • A moderate to severe sore throat
  • Swollen and sore lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swelling of the neck
  • Heart and nervous system complications

Diphtheria in your skin can cause lesions (damaged skin tissue or sores).

  • Diphtheria is caused by some strains of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
  • The strains that cause people to be sick make a toxin (or poison).
  • The bacteria is spread through the air by people sneezing or coughing.
  • The bacteria can also be spread by direct skin-to-skin contact.
  • Some people carry the bacteria in their nose and throat without getting sick.
  • Diphtheria can cause severe breathing problems, heart failure and paralysis.
  • One of every 10 people who get diphtheria will die from it.
  • Infected babies are even more likely to die.

If your health care provider thinks you may have diphtheria:

  • Your health care provider may take a swab of your nose and/or throat and/or skin lesion.
  • The swab will be sent to a laboratory to see whether the bacteria are living in your nose and/or throat and/or skin lesion.

If your health care provider thinks you might have diphtheria and are suffering from the toxic effects of the toxin, your health care provider will start you on treatment right away. 

One treatment is called diphtheria antitoxin. Diphtheria antitoxin works to stop the toxin (or poison) that is in your body but has not yet attached to your tissue. Antitoxin is usually given intravenously (by IV). 

Antibiotics (such as penicillin and erythromycin) are also needed to kill the diphtheria bacteria and keep it from spreading. 

The best protection against diphtheria is immunization.

SOURCE: Diphtheria ( )
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