Diphtheria can be serious and potentially deadly. It is a disease of the nose, throat, tonsils or skin. Most cases occur in people who have not been fully immunized against diphtheria or who have not received a booster dose within 10 years. Diphtheria is uncommon in the U.S.

Diptheria spreads through person-to-person contact with mucus, saliva or the skin lesions of an infected person.


Symptoms of diphtheria appear two to five days after exposure to an infected person.

There are two types of diphtheria. The first type involves the nose, throat and tonsils. Early symptoms include a sore throat, mild fever and swollen lymph nodes. A film develops on the throat, tonsils or inside the nostrils.

The second type of diphtheria is a skin infection. People with diphtheria skin infections develop a scaly rash or skin ulcers.

Most people who do not receive medicines are contagious for about two weeks. With proper medicines, people are contagious for only two to four days.


People who are infected with diphtheria do not necessarily become immune for life. The best way to avoid the disease is to be vaccinated.

There is a combination vaccine to protect against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis). Children should receive the vaccine at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months of age, as well as at 4 years of age. A combination vaccine against diphtheria and tetanus should be taken every 10 years.

For more information on where to vaccinate your child, call 311.


Diphtheria treatments include diphtheria antitoxin and certain antibiotics.

In severe cases, diphtheria can cause heart problems, paralysis of the muscles used for breathing or death. Untreated people are more likely to spread the infection to others.