Diphtheria: Causes, Symptoms, Transmission, And Treatment
Bacterial infections are often considered a concern due to the potentially life-threatening complications that may occur when such an infection goes untreated. Not all of these infections are equally dangerous. Some bacterial infections are easier to treat than others. A number of different bacterial species are known to cause infections in the body, which occurs when the bacteria enters the body and starts to multiply in the patient’s body.
Diphtheria is a type of bacterial infection that is considered both severe and highly contagious. The disease usually affects the throat and the nose and can lead to complications that may put the life of the patient in danger. While not as common as strep throat and other common bacterial infections, the population should still be aware of the symptoms and dangers associated with this infection, as well as become educated on how they can effectively prevent the development of Diphtheria through the use of an immunization vaccine.
How Many People Are Affected By Diphtheria?
Diphtheria is not as common of a bacterial infection as some of the other infections known in the medical industry – at least not today. In the year 1921, 206,000 cases of this disease were recorded in the United States, and 15,520 of these patients died from the disease. Fortunately, medical scientists were able to develop an effective vaccine against the bacteria that causes the infection, which has caused the prevalence of the disease to decline.
In the United States, only two cases of this bacterial infection were recorded between the year 2004 and 2015. Globally, however, Diphtheria is still somewhat of a concern, with 7,321 documented cases of the condition in 2014 alone. It should be noted that not all cases of this disease are accurately recorded in some countries, which means the real number of cases may be much higher.
What Are The Causes Of Diphtheria?
This infection is caused by a bacteria. The bacterium species that are known to cause a person to contract Diphtheria is Corynebacterium diphtheriae. There are many different kinds of these bacterium species that have been identified by the medical industry. Some of the bacterium strains are known to be more aggressive and dangerous than others, which is why it is always vital for a person to undergo specific diagnostic tests to help the physician in charge of the patient determine what strain of the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria has caused the infection.
Is This Infection Contagious?
Diphtheria is considered to be a highly contagious disease, that is why patients travelling to certain countries where the disease is prevalent, are often advised to be cautious and to undergo appropriate preventative measures to help reduce their risk of catching this infection.
The bacteria that causes Diphtheria can be transmitted from a person infected with the bacteria to a person who has not yet been exposed to the bacteria through several methods. Most commonly, the bacteria are transmitted through sneezing or coughing, due to respiratory liquids or droplets escaping from the body of the infected person and landing on the body of the uninfected person.
It should be noted that the bacteria can only enter an uninfected person’s body through skin lesions, or when it comes into contact with their mouth.
Infected individuals can spread the disease-causing bacteria to another person even if they are not experiencing any symptoms – as long as the bacteria are present in their body, they are considered at risk of transmitting the infection to others around them.
Furthermore, people should also be wary of the fact that the bacteria can survive on objects, such as a child’s toys, as well as tissues, table tops, and even cups or glasses. Thus, the infection may occur when a person not infected with Diphtheria uses an item that was previously used by a person who has the infection.
What Are The Symptoms Of Diphtheria?
Most patients who become infected with the bacteria that causes this disease will start to exhibit symptoms between two and five days following exposure to the bacteria. Not all patients will develop symptoms after being exposed to the bacteria. Those who do not develop any symptoms may still be able to transmit the bacteria over to people around them.
The first symptoms that appear usually include:
- A sore throat
- A low-grade fever
During the first few days following the infection, the patient will also start to develop a pseudomembrane, which will appear as a white-gray looking film, over the back of their throats. The membrane will usually cover their pharynx and their tonsils, and may also cover their larynx.
Should the membrane develop over the patient’s larynx, then they are diagnosed with Laryngeal Diphtheria. In such a case, additional symptoms may be present, which usually includes hoarseness. The hoarseness tends to get worse gradually.
Nasal Diphtheria, which is when the bacteria also causes the nasal passages of the patient to become infected, may cause nasal discharge. In later stages of the disease, the patient may also experience a bloody discharge from their nose.
It is important also to take note that limbs, such as the legs, are sometimes also affected when exposed to the bacteria that is known to cause the Diphtheria infection. Two particular species of this bacteria can cause cutaneous Diphtheria to develop in a patient. These two species include:
- C. Ulcerans
- C. Diphtheriae
When cutaneous Diphtheria develops, the patient may experience the development of lesions on their limbs, which would then progress into ulcers. These ulcers are often difficult to treat in the patient. In many cases, cutaneous Diphtheria tends to develop in patients who are simultaneously infected with the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium species.
Is This A Dangerous Or Life-Threatening Infection?
Diphtheria is considered a serious bacterial infection that can cause the patient to die if the infection is not diagnosed and treated promptly. Different studies have reported mixed statistics when it comes to the risk of death among patients who develop Diphtheria. One review paper that has been published in the Journal of Paediatrics Child Health explains that the risk of fatality ranges between 3.5% and 12% in most studies that have reported deaths in patients diagnosed with this infection.
The review paper also explains that the majority of cases where a patient dies from Diphtheria is due to either myocarditis or asphyxia.
How Is Diphtheria Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Diphtheria is crucial to the delivery of effective treatment protocols to an infected patient, as well as due to the reason that the symptoms caused by this infection may lead to an incorrect diagnosis – many symptoms associated with Diphtheria are also caused by other types of bacterial infections and general diseases.
The first phase of diagnosis involves a physical examination. The physician will need to ask the patient about their symptoms and inspect any clinical features, such as a membrane that might have developed in the back of the patient’s throat.
If the physician suspects Diphtheria, additional laboratory tests need to be ordered in order to determine if this is the correct diagnosis and, should the tests come back positive for Diphtheria, also provide the physician information about the specific strain of bacteria that the patient is infected with.
How Is Diphtheria Treated?
As soon as a positive result on a laboratory test for this infection is obtained, the physician needs to initiate a treatment plan for the patient to help reduce the risk of life-threatening complications. Treatment is usually administered with two different types of drugs to provide an effective way to fight against the bacteria and help the patient recover as fast as possible.
Diphtheria antitoxin drugs will be provided to the patient, along with a prescription for antibiotics. Both of these drugs need to be provided to the patient in order to eliminate the bacteria that causes the infection, as well as to ward off various toxins that the bacteria behind the Diphtheria infection produces in the patient’s body.
Are There Preventative Measures Against Diphtheria?
Vaccination against the bacteria strains that cause Diphtheria is possible with the use of different vaccines and can effectively help to prevent a patient from developing this infection if they are exposed to the bacteria.
New reports are often released to provide travellers with accurate information on locations throughout the world where outbreaks of Diphtheria are currently experienced. Should a person decide to travel to such a country, they need to take appropriate measures before their travels. This would include being vaccinated against the infection. Current areas considered to be at risk include Bangladesh, Haiti, Indonesia, Yemen, and Venezuela.
Diphtheria is considered to be a serious infection that is caused by bacteria entering a patient’s body and growing inside of their body. The infection can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, and when left untreated, it can cause fatal complications to develop. The infection can easily spread among people, and the symptoms vary based on the specific bacteria strain that has infected a patient. Symptoms can easily be confused with signs of other infections and diseases, making quick testing and diagnosis of the infection vital. While treatment is available to help eliminate the bacteria from the patient’s body, the preferred option is for the general population to be vaccinated against the infection; thus significantly reducing their risk of developing Diphtheria.