Nasty bug transmitted from person to person through close physical and respiratory contact. It can cause infection of the nasopharynx, which may lead to breathing difficulties and death.

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Key Fact

Absorption of diphtheria toxin into the bloodstream results in toxic damage to organs such as the heart, kidneys and peripheral nerves.


  • How do people catch these disease?

    Through close contact with someone infected with the bacteria which cause the disease.2,3 You can also get diphtheria from contact with belongings such as clothing or bedding.2

  • Which countries are affected?

    Cases are reported from many areas including North America, Europe and Australasia.4 But the disease is more common in countries which do not offer routine vaccination.

  • What are the symptoms?

    Fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, general feeling of being unwell, loss of appetite and sometimes hoarseness.2,3

  • How serious is the disease?

    Severe diphtheria can cause difficulty breathing which can be fatal.2,3 There may also be serious effects on the heart and nervous system. You need to get treatment with antibiotics and antitoxin promptly. Someone with suspected diphtheria is likely to be treated in a hospital isolation ward.

  • Can I reduce the chances of catching the disease?

    You can take the following precautions to help reduce your risk of infection:

    • Visit your nearest convenient specialist travel health clinic for a risk assessment before your trip
    • Wash your hands frequently, either with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitisers5
    • Avoid contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness5
  1. World Health Organization. Immunization , Vaccines and Biologicals. Diptheria. Available online: http://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/burden/diphtheria/en/
    (Last accessed June 2018)
  2. Zentrum für Reisemedizin. Diphterie. Available online: http://www.reisemed.at/krankheiten/diphtherie (Last accessed May 2018)
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2018. Chapter 3 Infectious Diseases Related to Travel. Diphtheria. June 2017. Available online: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/diphtheria (Last accessed May 2018)
  4. World Health Organization. Immunization Monitoring. Diptheria Reported Cases. Februaryr 2018. Available online: http://apps.who.int/immunization_monitoring/globalsummary/timeseries/tsincidencediphtheria.html (Last accessed May 2018)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2018. Chapter 2 The Pretravel Consultation. Respiratory Infections. May 2017.
    Available online: https://www.nc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/respiratory-infections (Last accessed May 2018)

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