Diphtheria is an acute bacterial disease that causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, making it difficult to breathe. It is passed from person to person by droplet transmission, usually by breathing in diphtheria bacteria after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. Diphtheria can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis and sometimes death.

Diphtheria Basics

General information about diphtheria, including symptoms, complications, treatment and vaccination.

  • Overview
    • Download this pdf file. Diphtheria  fact sheet with general information about diphtheria, including symptoms, complications, tests, vaccination and treatment.
    • About Diphtheria
      • General information from the CDC about diphtheria, including transmission, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Also includes photos and kid-friendly fact sheet
  • Reporting


  • Vaccine Information


Diphtheria Information for Health Professionals

Information on diphtheria for health professionals, including clinical features and epidemiology, how to report cases, vaccine information, and official recommendations.

  • Clinical Features and Epidemiology
    • Download this pdf file. Diphtheria Basics
      General information about diphtheria, including symptoms, complications, tests, vaccination and treatment.
    • Clinical Information
      Information about diphtheria, including clinical features, medical management, antibiotics and preventive measures.
  • Laboratory Testing
    • Diagnosis of diphtheria is usually made on the basis of clinical presentation since it is imperative to begin presumptive therapy quickly. However, culture of the lesion is needed to confirm the diagnosis.  Please consult the GDPH regarding additional information about diphtheria testing.
    • Download this pdf file. Diphtheira Laboratory Guidelines
  • Treatment
    • After the provisional clinical diagnosis is made and appropriate cultures are obtained, persons with suspected diphtheria should be given antitoxin and antibiotics in adequate dosage and placed in isolation.
    • Respiratory support and airway maintenance should also be administered as needed. In the United States, diphtheria antitoxin can be obtained from CDC on request.
    • Treatment with erythromycin orally or by injection (40 mg/kg/day; maximum, 2 gm/day) for 14 days, or procaine penicillin G daily, intramuscularly (300,000 U/day for those weighing 10 kg or less, and 600,000 U/day for those weighing more than 10 kg) for 14 days.
    • The disease is usually not contagious 48 hours after antibiotics are instituted. Elimination of the organism should be documented by two consecutive negative cultures after therapy is completed.
  • Post-exposure Prophylaxis for Contacts
    • For close contacts, especially household contacts, a diphtheria toxoid booster, appropriate for age, should be given.
    • Contacts should also receive antibiotics—benzathine penicillin G (600,000 units for persons younger than 6 years old and 1,200,000 units for those 6 years old and older) or a 7- to 10-day course of oral erythromycin, (40 mg/kg/day for children and 1 g/day for adults).
      • For compliance reasons, if surveillance of contacts cannot be maintained, they should receive benzathine penicillin G.
      • Identified carriers in the community should also receive antibiotics.
    • Contacts should be closely monitored and antitoxin given at the first sign(s) of illness.
    • Contacts of cutaneous diphtheria should be treated as described above; however, if the strain is shown to be nontoxigenic, investigation of contacts can be discontinued.
  • Public Health Investigation


Diphtheria Statistics

Incidence of diphtheria disease in Georgia.

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Page Last Updated 12/22/2022