Diphtheria On The Rise In India: What Are The Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of This Infectious Disease?
Corynebacterium diphtheria (Photo Credits: File pic)

Cases of diphtheria are on the rise in India. The number of reported cases of diphtheria reported solely in the capital of India has soared upto 26 and counting. This is a clear indication that lack of awareness about the vaccinations and preventive measures of this infectious disease is still prevalent in our country. A study concludes, "Diphtheria is still a preventable public health problem in many developing countries. Improved vaccination coverage, including booster dosage, coupled with early detection and effective treatment, may all reduce incidence and mortality." World Immunisation Week 2018: 4 Vaccines That Should Be on Every New Born’s Chart. 

However, it still remains a lesser known disease. Many people avoid vaccinations or ignore the symptoms of diphtheria that are comparatively common and end up with this disease.

What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is an infectious disease that is communicable among humans. This respiratory illness was quite common when there was a lack of vaccines available and the medical facilities were little. A study describes the disease as, "an infection caused by the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacterium. Diphtheria is spread (transmitted) from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets, like from coughing or sneezing. Rarely, people can get sick from touching open sores (skin lesions) or clothes that touched open sores of someone sick with diphtheria. A person also can get diphtheria by coming in contact with an object, like a toy, that has the bacteria that cause diphtheria on it.'

Causes of Diphtheria

The disease is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria that can be transmitted to you by various means. Be it by the direct physical contact with the person already suffering from diphtheria or by any object.

How Diphtheria Is Transmitted

  1. An infected skin lesion can help transmit the secretions from the nose and throat.
  2. If you are exposed to the droplets breathed out into the air
  3. Other objects of the infected person, for example, the bed, clothes, tissues, etc.
  4. Directly from an infected patient to any mucous membrane in a new person.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

The symptoms of diphtheria highly depends on the strain of bacteria that has affected and the part of the body that has been involved. Usually, the critical sign is the pseudomembrane which is a layer that looks like a membrane that appears in the lining of the nose and throat. However, even before that, there are a few symptoms that you might want to watch out for.

  • Swollen glands on the neck
  • Low fever and discomfort.
  • Constant Discharge from the nose.
  • Swelling of soft neck tissue.
  • Fast heart rate

Treatment of Diphtheria

While the use of antitoxin to neutralise the toxin released by the bacteria is one of the best ways of treatment, even antibiotics like erythromycin or penicillin help eradicate the bacteria and stop it from spreading.

According to WHO, "Treatment involves administering diphtheria antitoxin to neutralize the effects of the toxin, as well as antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Diphtheria vaccine is a bacterial toxoid, ie. a toxin whose toxicity has been inactivated. The vaccine is normally given in combination with other vaccines as DTwP/DTaP vaccine or pentavalent vaccine. For adolescents and adults, the diphtheria toxoid is frequently combined with tetanus toxoid in lower concentration (Td vaccine)."

However, diphtheria is quite commonly prevalent among kids and therefore it is very important to help prevent the disease with the use of vaccines. Vaccination is an effective way of dealing with the disease.  China’s Vaccine Scandal: Over 2.5 lakh Faulty DPT Vaccines Sold.