Diphtheria (bacterial infection repiratoria)

Throat | Otorhinolaryngology | Diphtheria (bacterial infection repiratoria) (Disease)


Diphtheria is a contagious disease spread by direct physical contact or breathing the aerosolized secretions of infected individuals. Historically quite common, diphtheria has largely been eradicated in industrialized nations through widespread vaccination.

Signs and symptoms of diphtheria may include: runny nose, severe sore throat, fever, generally feeling unwell (malaise), swollen lymph nodes in the throat, a furry grey or black coating on the throat membranes, which is made up of bacteria and dead cells, breathing problems, swallowing problems. With a cutaneous / skin diphtheria, the symptoms are usually milder and may include yellow spots or sores (similar to impetigo) on the skin.

Causes and Risk factors

A person with diphtheria has an infection caused by the bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheriae. These bacteria infect the larynx, tonsils, and throat. Corynebacterium bacteria produce a toxin that destroys tissue in the throat and larynx. Rarely, diphtheria can spread to the heart, kidneys and nervous system. Sometimes, diphtheria causes a skin infection. The wound is sore, inflamed and full of pus and may be surrounded by greyish skin patches. This condition is known as cutaneous diphtheria. It is quite rare in developed countries.

With the progression of respiratory diphtheria, the infected individual may also develop an adherent gray membrane (pseudomembrane) forming over the lining tissues of the tonsils and/or nasopharynx. Individuals with severe disease may also develop neck swelling and enlarged neck lymph nodes, leading to a bull-neck appearance. Extension of the pseudomembrane into the larynx and trachea can lead to obstruction of the airway with subsequent suffocation and death.

Persons may die from asphyxiation when the membrane obstructs breathing. Other complications of respiratory diphtheria are caused by the diphtheria toxin released in the blood, leading to heart failure.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Children and adults who have diphtheria often need to be in the hospital for treatment. They may be isolated in an intensive care unit because diphtheria can spread easily to anyone not immunized against the disease. ...