Diphtheria is a bacterial infection in the upper respiratory tract. Typically it is characterized by sore throat, swollen neck glands, high temperature and breathing difficulties. Through means of successful immunization diphtheria is now very rare in the United States and Europe. However it's still common in countries where immunization programs are not an integral part of standard public health care. It is a potentially fatal disease with an estimated 5-10% fatality rate. In children under 5 and adults over 40 the fatality rate may sometimes reach 20%.

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection. You can catch it from a person who has the infection and coughs or sneezes. You can also get infected by coming in contact with an object, such as a toy, that has bacteria on it.

Diphtheria usually affects the nose and throat. Symptoms include

  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Fever
  • Weakness

Your doctor will diagnose it based on your signs and symptoms and a lab test. Getting treatment for diphtheria quickly is important. If your doctor suspects that you have it, you'll start treatment before the lab tests come back. Treatment is with antibiotics.

The diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) vaccine can prevent diphtheria, but its protection does not last forever. Children need another dose, or booster, at about age 12. Then, as adults, they should get a booster every 10 years. Diphtheria is very rare in the United States because of the vaccine.