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What are the Causes of Diphtheria?

Delve into the multifaceted causes of diphtheria, understanding the diverse factors and origins that play a role in this contagious illness.

  • 22 Nov 2023
  • 3 min read

Diphtheria is a fatal disease caused by a bacterium known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The number of cases reported globally is showing a sharp decline but is still considered endemic in certain parts of the world. Diphtheria is a contagious disease and there are two forms of it. The first one is classical respiratory diphtheria, which affects the nose, throat, tonsils, or larynx. It is the most prevalent type. The other one is cutaneous diphtheria, which is characterised by skin rashes, sores, and blisters that can appear anywhere on the body.


Let’s check in detail what causes diphtheria.


What causes Diphtheria?

As mentioned earlier, Corynebacterium diphtheriae is the sole cause of diphtheria. The bacteria spread from one infected person to another mainly through airborne droplets that contain the pathogen from the sneezing or spitting by the patient. They can also be transmitted through touching an object contaminated by this microorganism. In the case of cutaneous diphtheria, touching the open sores of the patient will cause the other person to contract the disease.


The bacteria, once entering the body, adhere to the lining of the respiratory system and multiply rapidly. They release a toxin that destroys the tissues of the respiratory tract. The dead or damaged tissues accumulate a bulky grey coating within two or three days post-infection. Thus, grey tissue builds up usually in the throat. This results in swallowing and breathing difficulties. The skin sores may also get covered with grey tissues and will not heal.


Any person who is not immunised by the DPT vaccine coming in contact with an infected individual can develop diphtheria.

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Now you have a clear picture of the disease and what is diphtheria caused by. Diphtheria cases have declined largely due to the vaccination drive in the majority of the countries. In India, the DPT vaccination is administered to a newborn approximately at six weeks of age. Two booster doses are also given after 12 months and between the ages of 4 and 6. This immunisation is the reason that the once-deadly disease is now under control in many parts of the world.

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