The diphtheria - A bacterial infection that causes a sore throat, fever, and sometimes serious or even fatal complications. Diphtheria is caused by the bacillus CORYNEBACTERIUM DIPHTHERIAE.

The disease is now rare in developed countries as a result of mass immunization. In the UK, the vaccine is given at 2, 3, and 4 months, 3–5 years, and 13–18 years of age.

The infection may begin in the throat or in the skin. In the throat, multiplication of bacteria causes the formation of a membrane that may cover the tonsils and spread up over the palate or down to the larynx (voicebox) and the trachea (windpipe), causing breathing difficulty and a husky voice. Other symptoms
include enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, an increased heart rate, and mild fever. If infection is confined to the skin, the bacteria may produce a yellowish lesion covered by a hard membrane.

Life-threatening symptoms occur only in people who are not immune to the disease.They are caused by a toxin that is released by the bacteria and affects the heart and nervous system. Occasionally, a victim collapses and dies within a day of developing throat symptoms. More often, the victim is recovering from diphtheria when heart failure or paralysis of the throat or limbs develops. These complications can occur up to seven weeks after the onset of infection in the throat.

Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics; in addition, an antitoxin is given to neutralize the bacterial toxin. If severe breathing difficulties develop, a tracheostomy (the surgical introduction of a breathing tube into the windpipe) may also be necessary.


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