Diphtheria: symptoms, causes and treatment

A few days ago we knew that after almost 30 years (28 to be precise), the first case of diphtheria had been registered in Spain since 1987 . It happened in Olot, where a 6-year-old boy is admitted to the ICU of the Vall d'Hebron Hospital (Barcelona) in a serious condition after having been diagnosed with diphtheria .

As we told you, it is the first case of this infectious and serious disease that has been detected in our country since 1987. And as confirmed by the Department of Health of the Generalitat, the child was not vaccinated , despite the fact that immunization against this disease is effectively achieved through vaccination.


The diphtheria consists of a acute infectious disease caused by the contagion of the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae , also known by the name of Bacillus of Klebs-Löffler , which was originally discovered in 1884 by Edwin Klebs (pathologist) and Friedrich Löffler (bacteriologist). It is an uncapped bacillus, lacking mobility and not sporulated, which forms cultures with branched groups.

How is diphtheria spread? What are its causes?

It is a Acute infection that spreads by spreading through the respiratory droplets that are generated with sneezing or the cough of an infected person, or from someone who carries the bacteria but has no symptoms.

An infected person can infect diphtheria up to two weeks after becoming infected , hence the prevention after infection is essential to prevent the spread of the disease.

This bacillus causes a infection that affects the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat), can in turn generate damages in other organs , such as the brain and the heart.

In relation to causes of diphtheria , we must highlight the presence of a series of risk factors that influence its appearance / contagion: lack of vaccines or lack of vaccination, crowded environments and poor hygiene.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

Symptoms begin to appear between days 1 to 7 after the bacteria enters the body of the infected person (that is, between the first and the seventh day).

Symptoms of diphtheria

Its symptoms are actually very broad causing: sore throat, skin ulcers, breathing problems, discoloration of the bluish skin, chills, cough like cough, drooling when there is about to be a blockage of the respiratory tract , fever, hoarseness and pain when swallowing.

Characteristic of this infection is the appearance of a pseudomembrane or gray-to-black, hard and fibrous covering capable of obstructing the respiratory tract. However, when diphtheria infects the skin it first causes skin lesions.

How is the treatment of diphtheria?

The most effective treatment is the administration of diphtheria antitoxin , which is administered as an intramuscular injection, or through an intravenous route. Once the antitoxin is administered, the infection is treated with antibiotics (as for example with erythromycin and penicillin).

It is very common to be recommended to stay in the hospital in order to administer oxygen if necessary, monitor the heart and correct possible obstructions of the respiratory tract.


Diphtheria can be mild or severe , so that people can die especially when the disease affects the heart. So, Vaccination of children is essential for its prevention , since when injected it activates the natural defenses of the organism in front of it.

Images | Sue Clark / Army Medicine

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