What Is Diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease caused by strains of certain germs called Corynebacterium diphtheriae, occasionally found in the throats of apparently normal people.
The normal people are known as carriers of the germs. They do not actually have the disease. Sometimes the germs are found in other areas, such as open wounds.
Prevention of the disease
Years ago diphtheria attacked many thousands of children but it is rarely seen today because many children are now protected by DPT shots during infancy. ( The ‘D” represents diphtheria). Meanwhile, milk and other foods may contain diphtheria organisms, a good reason why all milk for human use should either be pasteurized or boiled.
Complications of the disease
1. Children with large tonsils and adenoids are more susceptible to diphtheria, especially if they have not been given the DPT shots in infancy. Greatest danger arises from blockage of the windpipe due to infection in the throat. This causes strangling and the patient may die unless if quickly relieved by a tracheostomy.
2. Diphtheria also damages the heart, the brain and the kidneys.
3. Diphtheria germs produce powerful toxins or poisons which damage near by cells and even affect distant organs, such as the kidneys. The toxins are carried to these areas by the blood stream. Heart failure may occur because the muscle fibers become weakened are are unable to contact as they should.
Causes and Symptoms of the disease
1. Diphtheria is caused by strains of bacteria known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae
2. Diphtheria begins with a sore throat within a few days after the patient has been exposed to the disease.
3. A greyish membrane forms in the throat, and there’s pain and difficulty in swallowing.
4. Soon the child becomes dangerously ill with a high fever, and breathing may be instructed because of the swelling in the throat.
5. Large tender glands develop in the neck, and the ears may be tender and inflamed.
6. Pneumonia and bronchitis are common but the most dangerous complication is myocarditis or inflammation of the heart.
7. The nerves of the throat may be partially paralyzed, and the kidneys damaged, sometimes permanently.
1. All young children should be protected against diphtheria by means of DPT shots.
2. In the case of an epidemic of diphtheria, all children under 2 years of age should be given antitoxins without delay.
3. Patient with diphtheria should be kept in bed and isolated from the community, preferably in a hospital specializing in the treatment of contagious diseases.
4. Tube feeding and continuous oxygen may be necessary in the more severe cases.
5. Penicillin and erythromycin are of value in treating the complications.
6. The patient should remain in bed for several weeks, and should not be allowed up until the electrocardiogram has returned to normal.
7. Recovery is often slow, particularly when the heart is involved.
8. Large doses of vitamin B and C are advisable in all of such cases.