What is it

Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection. It mainly affects the respiratory tract, although it can also infect the skin. It can be very serious, especially for infants and very young children.1
Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease; the diphtheria vaccine is a safe and an effective way of protecting both adults and children.1

What are the symptoms

Babies and children are most at risk for becoming infected with diphtheria – and for suffering from complications of the disease.2 However, anyone who has not been immunized is at risk of becoming infected, such as through contact with someone who became infected while travelling to a country where the disease is still prevalent.2 Symptoms of diphtheria appear in the respiratory tract 2 to 5 days after infection.3 Initial symptoms include fever, chills, and sore throat, and the illness can progress to cause problems with breathing and swallowing.3

How is it spread

Diphtheria is spread through the air from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or touching objects that were recently exposed to the bacterial (such as shared utensils, cups, and toys) and then rubbing the eyes, nose, or mouth.4

Infected people can spread diphtheria to others until the bacteria have completely disappeared from their own bodies (usually takes 2 to 4 weeks if the infection is not treated).4 If you get treatment, you are no longer infectious after 48 hours.4

How is it prevented

The Ministry of Health in Israel recommend that all children get 4 doses of the combined vaccine. These doses are usually given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 months of age.5  Your child will get a booster vaccine at 2nd of school.5 An additional booster dose, combined with tetanus and pertussis vaccine, is recommended for adolescents at the 8th grade of school.5 The diphtheria vaccine should be given every 10 years after that for lasting protection.6 For travelers who are more likely to be injured (for example, motorcycle trip or mountain climbing), for countries where it is desirable to avoid receiving vaccines, the vaccine should also be considered after 5 years of receiving the last booster (in general, the vaccine can be obtained even after the injury, However, in some countries vaccinations should be avoided and it is preferable to vaccinate before reaching the country).7

How is it treated

Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics as well as with a diphtheria antitoxin.8 The antitoxin is given to fight the toxins produced by the diphtheria bacteria.8 Even with treatment, diphtheria can be fatal in 1 in 10 cases.8 Diphtheria is especially dangerous for young children.8 Medical advice is recommended for the onset of symptoms. For further information regarding diphtheria and immunization, please speak with your healthcare provider.


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Diphtheria. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/diphtheria-diphterie-eng.php
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Diphtheria. Risks. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/diphtheria-diphterie/risks-risques-eng.php
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Diphtheria. Symptoms. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/diphtheria-diphterie/symptoms-symptomes-eng.php
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Diphtheria. Causes. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/diphtheria-diphterie/causes-eng.php
  5. Ministry of Health Israel. Vaccination of Infants. https://www.health.gov.il/Subjects/pregnancy/Childbirth/Vaccination_of_infants/Pages/vaccines_babies.aspx