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Diphtheria is an infectious bacterial disease that can cause difficulties in breathing. In severe cases, without a diphtheria vaccine, the disease can cause respiratory failure, heart failure or a build-up of toxins in the nervous system, all of which can be fatal. It is usually spread through coughs and sneezes.
Countries at risk
Cases of diphtheria are most frequently reported in India, Indonesia, China, Papua New Guinea, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and several countries in Central and South America. While there are certain areas for which we always recommend vaccination, it is advised that you check with us for the very latest on the status of your destination.
Diphtheria can affect people of all ages, but the groups who are most at risk include unimmunized children and older adults who may not have been vaccinated as children. All travellers who have not had the diphtheria vaccine are at risk, so the most important precaution to take is to ensure that all travellers are vaccinated. You can also avoid Diphtheria by planning to take your holiday in the warmer months of the year.
Signs and symptoms
Diphtheria attacks the respiratory system and occurs in the throat, so many of its symptoms are related to this area of the body. Sufferers may complain of difficulty in breathing or swallowing, sore throats, headaches, chills and fever. More outwardly visible symptoms include a heavy cough, bluish skin colouration, rapid and/or shallow breathing.
Diphtheria is preventable disease with a simple diphtheria vaccine. Travellers to areas at risk may be recommended a single course injection of Revaxis, to cover against tetanus, diphtheria and polio.
In the UK, vaccination against diphtheria infection is part of the childhood immunisation schedule.