Diphtheria is Rare But Deadly: Know About Diphtheria Treatments Here

BAJAJ FINSERV HEALTH EXPERTS
April 07, 2021

Throat infections are quite common and usually come paired with the seasonal flu. These are generally easy to treat and will pass with minimal medical intervention. However, this isn’t always the case as there are serious infections that also present with the same symptoms. Diphtheria is a good example of one such infection and while it is considered an ailment of the past, it is one that can be fatal. It is a highly contagious bacterial infection that mainly targets the nose and throat. When left unchecked, it can cause nerve damage or even death. This is why diphtheria treatments are crucial, especially early on in the sickness.

However, alongside seeking diphtheria treatments, you should make efforts to better understand the illness. This information can help you notice symptoms more easily and provides you with reliable tips for a complete recovery. To educate yourself about this condition, read this guide on diphtheria, its symptoms, causes, risk factors, prevention, and treatment options.

What is the cause of diphtheria?

Diphtheria is caused by bacteria and is a serious bacterial infection. The diphtheria bacteria name is Corynebacterium diphtheriae. There are certain strains of the bacteria that are known to produce a toxin, and this can bring about dangerous, potentially fatal, complications.

When you’re infected by the bacteria and there is release of toxins, these are the biological processes that take place:

  • The tissue at the site of infection gets destroyed
  • Membrane formations begins
  • The body’s production of protein cells gets inhibited
  • The toxin enters the bloodstream and get distributed to the entire body
  • Inflammation takes place in the heart and causes nerve damage
  • Lowers platelet count and causes proteinuria

Thankfully, there is solution to this in the form of a diphtheria antitoxin dose. This is a set protocol for diphtheria treatments but before getting into that, read on to know more about the symptoms and mode of transmission of diphtheria.  

What are the known diphtheria symptoms?

In all cases, diphtheria symptoms mainly depend on the strain of the bacteria that causes it and where it is infected. This is why it is important to know the answer to the question, Diphtheria affects which part of the body? In tropical areas, diphtheria can affect the skin and skin diphtheria causes skin ulcers. Nevertheless, the regular signs and symptoms associated with diphtheria are:

  • Production of a grey pseudo membrane over the lining of the throat and nose
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low fever
  • Weakness
  • Nasal discharge
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loud cough
  • Drooling
  • Sore throat

Many of these diphtheria symptoms are similar to the common cold but you should know to look for the distinctive grey coating on the throat. Apart from these, it is also important to note how far along the infection has progressed. The symptoms of diphtheria occur between 2 to 5 days of the infection, and in severe cases, the symptoms include difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, changes in vision, and signs of shock. 

What is the main diphtheria mode of transmission?

Diphtheria usually multiplies near or on the surface of the affected person’s throat. As such, it spreads through airborne droplets expelled by anyone infected with the bacteria. This can happen whenever they speak, yawn, cough, laugh, or sneeze. These droplets may linger in the air and can infect anyone that is near enough to inhale them. As such, it is important to maintain distance from those with the infection.

The second diphtheria mode of transmission is via contaminated items. This can happen whenever an infected person touches any item with their mouth or nose. For instance, towels and tissues are good examples of things you should avoid touching if you are caring for someone with the infection. This principle also applies to physical contact with an infected sore or ulcer as the bacteria can also spread through them.  

What are common diphtheria risk factors?

Diphtheria risk factors are mainly focused on conditions prevalent in developing countries as developed countries have better living conditions and immunisation programs. However, this doesn’t mean that isn’t possible to get infected as there is always a risk and these are the common factors responsible for it.

  • Living in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions
  • Not keeping up to date with vaccinations
  • Having a pre-existing immunity disorder like AIDS
  • Travelling to areas where diphtheria infections are common 

What are the complications that can arise from having diphtheria?

As mentioned earlier, diphtheria can cause complications if it left untreated. This is because the infection progresses through the body and the toxin continues to wreak havoc in its wake. These are the complications that can arise from an unchecked diphtheria infection.

  • Heart damage: The toxin released by the bacteria travels through the bloodstream and to the heart. Here, it can cause inflammation to the heart muscle, otherwise known as myocarditis. Myocarditis restricts the heart’s ability to pump and causes arrythmia. In case the heart damage is severe, the result can be sudden death due to congestive heart failure.
  • Nerve damage: The range of nerve damage can be quite severe with diphtheria. It starts with those in the throat, which causes poor nerve conduction leading to difficulty in swallowing. This can continue to the nerves in the limbs, causing inflammation and muscle weakness. Lastly, the toxin can also damage the nerves that control the muscles used to breathe normally. If these are damaged, it can impair normal function and the affected may not be able to breathe without mechanical assistance.
  • Breathing difficulties: Apart from nerve damage, the infected may face difficulties in breathing too. This is because the infection produces a thick, grey membrane of dead cells around the throat or nose. This membrane can make it very hard to breathe normally and blocked airways can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Other known complications include paralysis, septic shock, kidney failure and infection of other organs. 

What are the procedures carried out during diphtheria diagnosis?

Diphtheria diagnosis is a straightforward process that employs several tests to reach a conclusive result. It starts with a physical examination, during which the doctor will check for the distinctive grey membrane and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. These, in combination with a low-grade fever, is a clear indicator for further testing.

Following this, doctors will then continue to take tissue samples. This helps isolate the bacteria and allows for them to be cultured and tested for the degree of toxicity. These specimens are taken from your throat and nose. Sometimes swabs are taken from the membrane itself. All tests are conducted in a laboratory and some doctors may even advise having family members or others that may have come in contact with the infected to get tested as well.

How is diphtheria treated?

Once diagnosed, diphtheria treatments include a full course of antibiotics combined with an antitoxin injection. In fact, the antitoxin, which combats the diphtheria toxin is the primary element. Antibiotics include erythromycin or penicillin. The treatment plan differs based on your ability to handle medication. Some may be allergic to the antitoxin and doctors will start with a low diphtheria antitoxin dose and gradually up the dosage. Hospitalisation may be required.

What are common diphtheria prevention practices?

The best, and most recommended way, to go about diphtheria prevention is to get vaccinated for it. The diphtheria vaccine name is DTaP and can be administered alongside the vaccines for pertussis and tetanus. This vaccination is given in 5 shots, to children, at specific ages. This vaccine lasts only 10 years and as an adult, it is recommended to get the combined booster shot, tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine, every 10 years.

Other preventive measures include good respiratory hygiene and being careful with interacting with an infected person. 

What can you do to aid recovery from diphtheria effects?

As diphtheria treatments are quite intense and demand a lot from the body, you need to do all you can to aid this process. Here’s how you can go about it.

  • Get a lot of bed rest
  • Avoid physical exertion if you have heart damage
  • Get enough nutrition, especially through liquids
  • Isolate yourself to curb the spread
  • Get vaccinated after the infection clears to avoid reinfection 

Diphtheria treatments aren’t easy on the body as they involve a heavy course of antibiotic and antitoxin medications. During this phase, you should expect to feel weaker than usual and you need to be aware of this. Pushing yourself to recover sooner will only hamper recovery and this is why knowing all you can about the condition’s effects helps. Without being informed, you are likely to treat it like any other sickness and make the situation worse. Remember, you don’t want to take any chances with such a serious health problem and, when sick, it is well worth it to consult with the top physician available to you. To find such a specialist, a smart and easy way to go about it is to use the Bajaj Finserv Health App.

This e-healthcare tool is loaded with convenient telemedicine perks that simplify access to quality care. With it, you can find the best doctors by using the smart doctor search feature. This, in combination with the ability to book appointments online, greatly aids the entire process and minimises the effort required to get medical care. Another helpful functionality is the facility to use the app to consult doctors virtually, over video. This opens doors to remote care, which can come in handy when faced with an emergency or if physical consults aren’t possible. To avail these benefits and more, right away, download the app for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store today.