Diphtheria is an acute bacterial disease that usually characterized by sore throat and low grade fever. A milder form of diphtheria can be restricted to the skin. It is passed from person to person by droplet transmission, usually by breathing in diphtheria bacteria after an infected person has coughed, sneezed or even laughed. It can also be spread by handling used tissues or by drinking from a glass used by an infected person. Diphtheria can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis and sometimes death.
In its early stages, diphtheria may be mistaken for a severe sore throat. Other symptoms include a low-grade fever and enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) located in the neck. Another presentation of diphtheria can be skin lesions that may be painful, red and swollen. Symptoms usually appear 2 to 4 days after infection, with a range of 1 to 6 days. People carrying diphtheria germs are contagious for up to 4 weeks without antibiotic therapy, even if they themselves do not develop symptoms.
There is a vaccine for diphtheria. Most people receive their first dose as children in the form of a combined vaccine called DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis).