What Is Diphtheria And Should You Be Worried About It?

Diphtheria, while not necessarily common in Australia, can still very much cause concern in some situations. Diphtheria is an infection caused by the spread of a bacterium known as “Corynebacterium diphtheria.” In the event that an individual contracts diphtheria, once the bacteria is inside the body it will release a toxin that quickly infects the upper airways, and sometimes the skin, as it will cause the development of a membrane that grows across a person’s windpipe, which can cause suffocation in some instances. In this article we take a closer look at what diphtheria is and how it can be more easily prevented.

How you might contract diphtheria

Although it is now possible to obtain vaccinations for diphtheria, there are still instances where people may contract this bacteria. Although it is not common in Australia, it can be contracted while Australians are traveling overseas in places like Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and many other countries around the world that might be considered developing nations. Here, it is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes in your vicinity and you accidentally breathe it in, if you touch something an infected person has coughed or sneezed on or if you touch a wound of someone infected with diphtheria. If you do contract diphtheria, it is often simple to manage your symptoms to prevent it spreading. It is recommended that you stay away from populated areas – such as schools, workplaces and childcares – until your doctor informs you that you are no longer infectious. It is also very important that you wash your hands very frequently and cover your mouth whenever you cough or sneeze.

Symptoms and treatment of diphtheria

Common, yet subtle, symptoms of diphtheria can include things like sore throat, issues with swallowing and a mild fever. The more obvious symptoms include breathing issues, which can develop to be quite severe, and the presence of a grey or green membrane at the back of your throat. These symptoms can take between 2 to 5 days to develop after catching diphtheria, so it might not be immediately obvious where and when you contracted the bacteria. It’s important to note that anyone at any age is equally susceptible to contracting diphtheria, but being immunised can help very easily prevent the development of the disease. If you do opt for a diphtheria immunisation in Australia before you go overseas, you will find that  diphtheria and tetanus are combined in the one vaccine, which can also be handy overseas. It is this vaccine that has helped eradicate diphtheria in Australia, but as the vaccine is not readily available overseas, it can mean that people from outside Australia can bring diphtheria in. Even if you do contract Diphtheria, it is still possible to treat it with antibiotics and diphtheria anti-toxin, however.

Prepared against diphtheria?

Although it can sometimes sound like a simple breathing condition, the membrane that develops due to diphtheria can cause death through suffocation, or even instances of heart and nervous system damage. To prevent any possibility of this, getting a vaccine before travelling overseas is by far the best (and simplest) way to ensure you never develop the disease or unwittingly pass it on to anyone else.

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