Diphtheria is a highly contagious, bacterial infection spread by coughs and sneezes or through contact (e.g. skin or bodily fluids) with an infected person. A toxin which is released by the bacteria can lead to serious heart and nervous system; making Diphtheria potentially fatal.
Signs and symptoms will begin to show 2-7 days after exposure. The type of symptoms; which present themselves will depend on how far the toxin has spread e.g. if it has only spread to the skin or deeper to the lungs.
Infected skin would be covered with an ulcer without clear borders, this would have a grey to brown colour and also can present as a rash. This is less likely to become fatal but still requires immediate attention.
If the infection has spread to the lungs then this will be identified by a grey/yellow membrane coating the back of the throat and palate of the mouth, often leathery in texture. Glands in the neck become swollen quite noticeably as the neck looks ‘bullish’. There may also be a very brassy cough, a sore throat and a more husky voice. This requires urgent attention as this can lead to the throat being closed off and can lead to death. Long term, untreated infection can lead to nerve and brain damage, heart failure or respiratory failure.
Other symptoms also include nasal discharge, crusting and erosion around the nostrils.
Diphtheria requires both antibiotic and antitoxin treatment to both deactivate the toxin in the body and prevent further spread of the disease. Professional help should always be sought after if there is any suspicion of Diphtheria infection.
Those at most risk are those living in crowded areas in areas where Diphtheria is prevalent as this increases the chances of contact. Also those travelling with or dealing with farm animals for a prolonged period of time; in particular cattle, are more at risk.
The most effective form of prevention is vaccination against Diphtheria. For children from the age of 10 upwards this is available as a single booster dose lasting 10 years. This is available from the pharmacy for £20, please call on 02089021328 for further information.