Diphtheria is a disease which is caused by bacterial infection that spreads easily and happens quickly. This disease can mainly affect the nose and throat. Children under the age of 5 and adults over 60 years old are specifically at risk for having the infection.
Those people who are living in crowded or unclean conditions, those who aren't well nourished or children and adults who don't have up to date immunity are also at risk.
Signs & Symptoms of Diphtheria
In its initial stages, diphtheria can be misunderstood as a bad sore throat. A low-grade fever and swollen neck glands are some of the early symptoms of this disease.
The toxin or poison which is caused by the bacteria can further lead to a thick coating in the nose, throat, or airway, which makes a diphtheria infection different from other common infections which can cause sore throat. This coating is generally fuzzy gray or black and can cause breathing problems and difficulty in swallowing.
As the infection grows, someone can:
- have difficulty in breathing or swallowing
- complaint of double vision
- have slurred speech
In cases that grow beyond a throat infection, diphtheria toxin spreads through the bloodstream and can lead to potentially life-threatening complications that affect other organs, such as the heart and kidneys.
The toxin can also cause an immense damage to the heart which affects its ability to pump blood or the kidneys' ability to clear wastes. It also can cause nerve damage, gradually leading to paralysis.
Treatment of Diphtheria
Children and adults who are having diphtheria are treated in a hospital. After a doctor advises the diagnosis through a throat culture, the infected person might get a specific anti-toxin which is given through injections to neutralize the diphtheria toxin which is already circulating in the body, plus antibiotics to kill the remaining diphtheria bacteria.
People with diphtheria will need a ventilator to help them breathe if the infection is in advanced state. Patients may need intravenous fluids, oxygen, or heart medications in cases in which the toxins may have spread to the heart, kidneys, or central nervous system.
A person suffering from diphtheria must be isolated. Family members and other close contacts who are very young or who have not been immunized should be protected from contact with the patient.
The doctor will notify the local health department and treat everyone in the household who may have been exposed to the bacteria, when someone is diagnosed with diphtheria.
The assessment of immune status, throat cultures, and booster doses of the diphtheria vaccine will be taken as a treatment option. They will also receive antibiotics as a precaution.
An early intervention and immediate hospitalization allows most of the patients to recover from diphtheria. After the effect of antibiotics and anti-toxins, someone with diphtheria will need bed rest for a while (4 to 6 weeks, or until full recovery).
Bed rest is very important if someone develops myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), which can be a complication of diphtheria.