Diphtheria, caused by a toxin (poison) released by bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is primarily an upper respiratory tract infection. The Mortality rate, generally 5 to 10%, may be as high as 20% in children <5 yr and adults >40 yr of age. Incidence, which was > 1 mn /year in early 19th Century, declined >95% by 20th Century, due to active immunization. It is part of DTaP, free immunization in India.
Despite being vaccine preventable, it is reemerging in various states including Karnataka with increasing deaths. Poor immunization coverage, lack of awareness, facilities for diagnosis and unavailability of DAT (anti-poison) are the root causes.
It is characterized by its formation of thick grey leathery membrane in the back of the throat making voice hoarse, difficult to breathe and swallow.
Children and adults who are unimmunized or partially immunized.
Through (i) respiratory droplets through coughing and sneezing (ii) Toys or objects infected with the bacteria (iii) Contact with open sores (skin lesions) (iv) Infected clothing/bedding, etc.
Treatment includes antibiotic therapy that kills the bacteria. But administration of DAT (Diphtheria Anti- Toxin) is required in serious cases to neutralize the toxin (poison) already released by the bacterium in the body.
Complications include (i) Difficulty in breathing (ii) Heart failure (iii) Paralysis and (iv) Death.
Source : ICMR Policy Brief - August 2017
Last Modified : 7/3/2023