If the health care provider thinks you have diphtheria, treatment should be started immediately, even before test results are available.
Diphtheria antitoxin is given as a shot into a muscle or through an IV (intravenous line). The infection is then treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin and erythromycin.
People with diphtheria may need to stay in the hospital while the antitoxin is being received. Other treatments may include:
- Fluids by IV
- Bed rest
- Heart monitoring
- Insertion of a breathing tube
- Correction of airway blockages
Anyone who has come into contact with the infected person should receive an immunization or booster shots against diphtheria. Protective immunity lasts only 10 years from the time of vaccination, so it is important for adults to get a booster of tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine every 10 years.
Those without symptoms who carry diphtheria should be treated with antibiotics.
Diphtheria may be mild or severe. Some people may not have symptoms. In others, the disease can slowly get worse.
The death rate is 10%. Recovery from the illness is slow.
The most common complication is inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). The nervous system is also frequently and severely affected, which may result in temporary paralysis.
The diphtheria toxin can also damage the kidneys.
Calling Your Health Care Provider
Contact your health care provider if you have come in contact with a person who has diphtheria.
Remember that diphtheria is a rare disease. Diphtheria is also a reportable disease, and any cases are often publicized in the newspaper or on television. This helps you to know if diphtheria is present in your area.
Review Date : 11/9/2009
Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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