Diphtheria is a serious infection of the respiratory tract or skin. The disease is transmitted by sneezing, coughing or by direct contact with respiratory secretions or by direct contact with skin lesions of an infected person.
The disease remains a problem in the developing world (sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South East Asia and South America).
Diphtheria can cause serious inflammation of the respiratory tract and is usually identified by a greyish-white membrane seen at the back of the throat. In severe cases the airway can become blocked and death can result due to suffocation.
The bacteria that cause diphtheria can also invade skin injuries and wounds. This form of diphtheria is usually mild and is commonly found on lower legs, feet and hands.
Diphtheria can cause multi-organ failure even if recovery appears to have been made weeks earlier.
Treatment for diphtheria, both respiratory and cutaneous, is with specific antibiotics and antitoxin. Assisted ventilation may be required for those who suffer from airway obstruction.
Recommendations for travellers
A combination vaccine called Revaxis is available to protect adults against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Children normally receive these vaccinations as part of the national schedule. Travellers should ensure that they have had a primary course of vaccine and receive a booster every 10 years if they are travelling to an area where diphtheria, tetanus or polio are considered high risk.
Book your travel clinic appointment today to find out whether it is necessary for your travels.
©Information courtesy of Fit for Travel – a public access website provided by the NHS (Scotland)