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Diphtheria is claiming lives in Nigeria: Know all about its symptoms in children

What is diphtheria, the infection which has claimed several lives in Nigeria recently? A doctor explains the symptoms and how to prevent it.
A doctor explains diphtheria. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Bharti Khairnar Published: 10 Mar 2023, 12:00 pm IST
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Diphtheria, a serious infection, is currently in news after an outbreak in Nigeria. If you are hearing this term for the first time, let us tell you more about this contagious health problem. Children, especially, are more susceptible to the external environment and are prone to serious infections like diphtheria.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by different variants of Corynebacterium Diphtheriae with Corynebacterium species (C. Diphtheriae and C. Ulcerans). This is a highly contagious disease that spreads through respiratory droplets, similar to the flu. It impacts young kids under 18 and adults over 60 the most.

Types of diphtheria

There are two types of diphtheria: one that affects the throat and another that affects the skin.

In throat diphtheria, the back of the throat gets covered with a thick sheet of grey matter, while the bacteria in skin diphtheria cause a rash and ulcers on the body. The disease causes many complications, such as the inability to breathe properly, airway blockage, nerve damage, and eventually damage to the heart muscle and kidney failure.

Diphtheria can affect the throat. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Symptoms of Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a serious condition that has taken many lives. Therefore, it is important to be aware of its symptoms. A few of the common symptoms of diphtheria in children are:

* Fever: One of the earliest symptoms of diphtheria is the onset of fever in the child. The fever may start as mild but over time can reach high levels.
* Grey membrane at the backside of the throat: This is a big sign of the disease, and people must take immediate action and take the child to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
* Chronic cough: Due to the blockage in the throat, the child could often be seen trying to clear his/her throat and having a dry cough.
* Swollen glands: The child’s neck swells up as bacteria attack the throat, making it very visible from the outside.
* Restlessness in the body: The disease steals away the body’s energy and causes weakness and restlessness in the child due to extreme discomfort.
* Skin diphtheria: This condition causes skin ulcer with grey, brown membrane. Diphtheria can sometimes cause infection of ear, eye (conjunctivitis) and genital tract
* Ulcers: Ruining the edges and membrane of the skin, the bacteria cause scaling rashes, and painful ulcers on the skin.

Also read: New mums! Learn this list of vaccination by heart for your kid’s better health

Diphtheria can lead to skin irritation. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Diphtheria treatment

In past years, the number of cases of this infection has been going down, but India still reports half of the cases globally. There is an urgent need for vigilance and proper vaccination to avoid the severe symptoms of diphtheria, which can even be fatal.

The simple solution to this disease is a vaccination for diphtheria, which is given to kids when they are six weeks of age. After 15 to 18 months, one booster dose is administered, followed by another between the ages of 4 and 5 years. Parents must speak with their medical consultant to verify if their child has been vaccinated against diphtheria. And if not, they must immediately go for the vaccine dose.

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Dr Bharti Khairnar

Dr Bharti Khairnar Consultant, Pediatrician, Manipal Hospital Kharadi-Pune ...Read More

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