Is Diphtheria Still the Deadly Disease It Once Used to be?

Is Diphtheria Still the Deadly Disease It Once Used to be?

Diphtheria used to be very widespread till about a century ago. Thankfully, through effective vaccination and relentless efforts by the different organizations working towards eradicating it, the situation is much under control now. However, with a number of cases registered in the past few years in the country, this disease seems to be cropping up its ugly head once again. It is our onus to get every family member vaccinated against diphtheria to bring down the risk to its lowest point and help promote a healthy India as well.

  • Overview
  • Symptoms
  • Treatment

Understanding Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease and quickly spreads from one to another. It is a bacterial infection. Corynebacterium Diphtheria affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat (tonsils), and also affects the skin. In rare cases, especially if left untreated, it can impair the heart, kidneys and the nervous system and eventually also lead to death.

The bacterial infection releases a toxin that travels through the bloodstream and spreads all over the body. This can be seen as an unusual layer of growth, whitish in color, in the throat that typically blocks the airway. This makes it difficult for the person to breathe. A person may spread the bacteria on to other people while sneezing, through contact, or via objects used (mainly utensils). Although kids below 5 years of age are most prone to contracting this disease, adults too may get it if not protected. Senior members with low immunity are also susceptible and so are travelers moving to areas that are high risk zones.

High carriers of Diphtheria are poor hygiene standards, extremely crowded and dirty living conditions, developing countries where vaccination isn’t widespread and low immunity in the aged as well as children and people with AIDS.

Diphtheria symptoms

Besides the coating on the throat, a person with Diphtheria may exhibit the below signs:

  • Fever with or without chills
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Loud cough
  • Drooling
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slurred speech and changes in vision
  • Ulcers on the skin

Diagnosis & Treatment of Diphtheria

If a person in your family is exhibiting these symptoms, consult a doctor urgently. This can be a very painful condition for the patient and immediate medical assistance is required to reduce the same. The doctor may start with physically assessing the glands to check the swelling. The gray layer in the throat will confirm that the person is suffering from Diphtheria; nonetheless, a sample of the tissue will be sent for laboratory examination. Bases the other symptoms (fever, chills, etc.), the person may be hospitalized to reduce the spreading of the bacteria.

Treatment of Diphtheria is typically a mix of antibiotic and anti-toxin doses. An anti-toxin injection is given to counteract the toxin in the body, released by the bacteria; the antibiotics help reduce the infection gradually. Isolating the infected person is also a part of the treatment as this minimizes contact with others and thus reduces the chances of the infection from spreading. If identified on time, diphtheria can be treated in a week and a person is required to remain in isolation for 2 -3 days only (from the start of medicines).

Diphtheria vaccination is available in the form of 4 vaccine doses namely DTaP, Tdap, DT and Td. It is important that everyone gets these doses administered irrespective of the age, gender and the area where he/she resides. Once given, the vaccine can keep you safe for a number of years. If you are traveling to a high-risk zone, do remember to consult your doctor once. Precaution is always better than cure…

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