Vaccine preventable diseases: Diphtheria

What it is: Considered a rarity nowadays, diphtheria is an acute infectious disease caused by bacteria (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) that can lead to significant damage if left untreated.

How it spreads: A simple cough or sneeze is enough to transmit the bacteria from one person to another. The disease spreads easiest in highly concentrated and crowded areas, and poor hygiene enables the bacteria to spread more effectively.

What it causes: Throat infections result in a tough, grayish-black membrane that can block the airways. It can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and even death. Other symptoms include:

  • Bluish skin coloration
  • Bloody, watery drainage from the nose
  • Breathing problems
  • Chills
  • “Barking” cough
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Hoarseness
  • Painful swallowing
  • Skin lesions
  • Sore throat

What to do: Children should receive a series of five doses of DTaP vaccine at two, four and six months of age,  then at 15-18 months of age, and again at four to six years old.   Adults need to receive a Td booster every 10 years, with one of those doses being a dose of Tdap.