Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that usually affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Diphtheria can be treated with medication. But in advanced stages, diphtheria can damage the heart, kidneys and nervous system.
Even with treatment, diphtheria can be deadly, especially in children.
Signs of diphtheria often appear within two to five days of the infection occurring. Some people don’t experience any symptoms, while others have mild symptoms that are similar to those of the common cold.
The most visible and common symptom of diphtheria is a thick, gray coating on the throat and tonsils. Other common symptoms include;
- A fever
- Swollen glands in the neck
- A loud, barking cough
- A sore throat
- Bluish skin
- General feeling of uneasiness or discomfort
Additional symptoms may occur as the infection progresses, including;
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Changes in vision
- Slurred speech
- Signs of shock, such as pale and cold skin, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat
Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterial microorganism known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Other Corynebacterium species can be responsible, but this is rare.
Some strains of this bacterium produce a toxin, and it is this toxin that causes the most serious complications of diphtheria. The bacteria produce a toxin because they themselves are infected by a certain type of virus called a phage.
The toxin that is released;
- Inhibits the production of proteins by cells
- Destroys the tissue at the site of the infection
- Leads to m
- embrane formation
- Gets taken up into the bloodstream and distributed around the body’s tissues
- Causes inflammation of the heart and nerve damage
- Can cause low platelet counts, or thrombocytopenia, and produce protein in the urine in a condition called proteinuria
Doctors may suspect diphtheria in a sick child who has a sore throat with a gray membrane covering the tonsils and throat. Growth of C. diphtheriae in a laboratory culture of material from the throat membrane pins down the diagnosis.
Doctors can also take a sample of tissue from an infected wound and have it tested in a laboratory to check for the type of diphtheria that affects the skin (cutaneous diphtheria).
If a doctor suspects diphtheria, treatment begins immediately, even before the results of bacterial tests are available.
Diphtheria is a serious condition, so the doctor will start treatment immediately and aggressively.
The first step of treatment is an antitoxin injection. This is used to counteract the toxin produced by the bacteria. The doctor will make sure the patient is not allergic to the antitoxin. If they are they will give the antitoxin in small doses and gradually build up to higher amounts.
The doctor will also prescribe antibiotics, such as erythromycin or penicillin, to help clear up the infection.
During treatment, the doctor may require the patient to stay in the hospital so they can avoid passing the infection on to others. They may also prescribe antibiotics for those close to the patient.
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