Diphtheria, a common childhood disease in the 1930s, is an acute bacterial disease that can infect the body in two areas:
A vaccine against diphtheria has made it very rare today in the U.S. and other developed countries.
The diphtheria bacterium can enter the body through the nose and mouth. However, it can also enter through a break in the skin. It is transmitted from person-to-person by breathing in respiratory secretions or droplets that contain diphtheria bacteria from an infected person coughing, sneezing, or laughing. After being exposed to the bacteria, it usually takes two to four days for symptoms to develop.
The following are the most common symptoms of diphtheria. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Children may die from asphyxiation when the membrane obstructs breathing. Other complications of respiratory diphtheria are caused by the diphtheria toxin released in the blood, leading to heart failure.
The symptoms of diphtheria may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
A physician can usually diagnose the illness based on clinical examination. A swab culture of the mouth or affected mucous membrane may also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Specific treatment for diphtheria will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Antibiotics are usually effective in treating respiratory diphtheria before it releases toxins in the blood. An antitoxin can be given in combination with the antibiotics, if diphtheria is suspected. Sometimes a tracheostomy (a breathing tube surgically inserted in the windpipe) is necessary if the child has severe breathing difficulties.
Children in the US are routinely given a triple vaccine (DTaP) that includes diphtheria in their first year. Because diphtheria still prevails in underdeveloped countries, the vaccine remains necessary in case of exposure to a carrier visiting from another country.
Immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines prevent these diseases. Most children who receive all of their shots will be protected during childhood. A combination vaccine is given to babies and children and provides protection against all three diseases. There are several types of the vaccine:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children need five DTaP shots. The first three shots are given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Between 15 and 18 months of age, the fourth shot is given, and a fifth shot is given when a child enters school at 4 to 6 years of age. At regular checkups for 11- or 12-year-olds, a preteen should get a booster dose of another form of this vaccine called Tdap. Always consult your child's doctor for advice.
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