Diphtheria is a serious disease caused by exotoxin producing bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The toxin or poison produced by bacteria results in formation of dead tissue, which then creates pseudo or false thick blocking membranes in the upper respiratory tract. The pseudomembranes sticks to the tissue underneath making it difficult to breathe or swallow. The toxin may enter the bloodstream and may cause damage to the heart muscle (myocarditis), nerves and other tissues. It can cause complications like heart failure, paralysis and  pneumonia. Diphtheria can be fatal even with treatment in 1 out of 10 cases. Prevention by the vaccine (see DTwP/DTaP/Tdap) is the only wise option.

How is Diptheria spread?

Diptheria is spread from one person to another by coughing and sneezing the infected respiratory droplets. A person infected with Diptheria is contagious for 2 weeks. In rare cases, the bacteria can be transmitted by directly touching or through contaminated clothes from the discharge of infected skin lesions. Kids in Playschools can get infected with contaminated toys.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

A person infected with the bacteria first suffers from sore throat, mild fever (around 101 degrees) and chills. Later, the patient can’t breathe or swallow. Abnormal heart rhythms leading to heart failure can follow. The patient can’t move parts of the body when Diptheria toxin affects the nerves causing paralysis.

Diptheria Vaccine

Diptheria vaccines contain Diphtheria toxoid, an altered bacterial toxin that induces formation of protective antitoxin in the vaccinated person. Diptheria toxoid, combined with tetanus, and pertussis vaccines (whooping cough disease), is called DTwP (wP; whole cell pertussis means that the pertussis component contains the entire pertussis organism) or DTaP (aP; acellular pertussis meaning that the pertussis component contains only a part of the pertussis organism). This vaccine  has been the part of the mandatory childhood immunization program by Govt. Of India.

Tdap vaccine is a Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccine along with cellular pertussis meant for adolescents and adults.  Tdap is recommended in this age group because of its reduced reactogenicity due to decreased antigen content compared with DTaP.

Diptheria toxoid is also combined with additional vaccine antigens, such as Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b as its effectiveness is not altered when it is given along with these vaccines. This combination vaccine is called Pentavalent vaccine and it was added in the national immunization program by Govt. Of India. Combination vaccines reduce the number of pricks to the baby and provides the protection against multiple  diseases at one time.

Diptheria vaccination is given as a shot in Antero-lateral mid thigh region. 97% of the children who get all the doses of the vaccine will be protected against Diphtheria.