Search Button
Divider Home Button

Fact sheet menu image

Diphtheria

What is diphtheria?
Where is diphtheria found?
What are the symptoms of diphtheria?
How is diphtheria spread?
How can I keep from getting diphtheria?
If I’ve been exposed to diphtheria, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
What treatments are available for diphtheria? How serious is the disease?
Where can I get more information on diphtheria?

What is diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a serious disease caused by the Corynebacterium diphtheria bacteria. Diphtheria causes a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. The disease can be deadly.

Where is diphtheria found?
Diphtheria is found worldwide, but a case in the United States has not been confirmed since 2003.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?
The initial symptoms of diphtheria can resemble a cold or the flu, and include:

After this initial phase, a thick coating in the back of the throat or nose develops making it or hard to breathe or swallow.

How is diphtheria spread?Man coughing, photo courtesy of the Public Health Image Library
Diphtheria is contagious and can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. An infected person can be contagious for up to two weeks after infection.

How can I keep from getting diphtheria?
A vaccine for diphtheria, DTaP, is available and is usually given to young children in a combination with vaccines against tetanus and pertussis. The diphtheria vaccine is also included in tetanus booster shots available for adults.

If I’ve been exposed to diphtheria, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
The initial symptoms of diphtheria can occur between two and seven days after exposure.

What treatments are available for diphtheria? How serious is the disease?
Diphtheria is treated with an antitoxin and antibiotics. The disease can be deadly, as around one in 10 people and one in five children who become infected die.

Where can I get more information on diphtheria?
For more information online, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or you can call the Health Department at 859.363.2070.

Sources: Northern Kentucky Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention