Diphtheria is a potentially fatal infection that is highly contagious. It’s spread by close contact with someone who is already infected, including by sharing clothing, bedding, cups and crockery, or via sneezing and coughing. The disease is rare in the UK because of routine childhood vaccinations.
If you were vaccinated against diphtheria more than 10 years ago, you will need a booster vaccination if you’re travelling to areas of the world where diphtheria is still found. Broadly speaking, these areas are:
- the South Pacific
- the Middle East
- eastern Europe
- the Caribbean
For recommended vaccines for specific countries, visit the TravelHealthPro website.
Symptoms usually start around 2-5 days after infection and include:
- High temperature
- Sore throat
- Thick, greyish coating on the throat
- Swollen neck glands
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Pus-filled blisters on hands, legs and feet
- Large ulcers
Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics as well as any medication needed to stop the toxins being produced by the bacteria. Ulcers and wounds caused by the diphtheria will need thoroughly cleaning.
Treatment usually lasts 2-3 weeks. Ulcers usually heal within 3 months, but may leave scarring.