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Diseases & Topics

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is spread by coughing and sneezing. As a respiratory disease, diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat and can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death. Several combination vaccines are used to prevent diphtheria: DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. Infants and children are routinely immunized against diphtheria, but adults also need to be protected. Booster shots are needed every 10 years.

Diphtheria was a major cause of illness and death among children in the United States before vaccines were available. Although respiratory diphtheria is now rare in the United States, Corynebacterium diphtheriae is still present in this country and is sometimes identified as a cause of skin and wound infections. Respiratory diphtheria continues to occur in the former Soviet Union as well as in countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

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