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Diphtheria: Learn more about child-killer disease



Diphtheria: Learn more about child-killer disease

YyA new disease called diphtheria has surfaced in some parts and gradually spreading across the country, raising concerns among health officials in Nigeria.

Diphtheria is a serious and contagious infection caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

The infection can lead to paralysis, heart failure, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can be fatal.

It typically affects the respiratory system or the integumentary system.


The integumentary system includes the Trusted Source the three layers of the skin — the hypodermis, dermis, and epidermis — and the glands, nails, and hair.

Recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) warned Nigerians about the outbreak of diphtheria among children across the country.

According to the advisory, the outbreak of the bacterial infection has killed over 30 persons in the country with only Kano State responsible for about 25 deaths.

The NCDC also said it is working with state ministries of health and partners to enhance surveillance and response to the outbreak, it also warned that the infection is contagious and most cases have been laboratory confirmed.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacterium was discovered by Edwin Klebs in 1883 when the disease was considered one of the most dreadful infections in the world.

Diphtheria started in ancient Egypt and Greece when vaccines were unavailable, and one in every ten children under the age of five was said to have died from the disease until possible treatment surfaced in the 1920s.

Symptoms of diphtheria typically include a thick, gray coating in the nose and throat along with a sore throat, swollen glands, weakness, and mild fever. If the condition affects the skin, ulcers and open sores can appear.

Some variants of this bacterium produce a toxin called an exotoxin. This causes the most serious complications associated with diphtheria. The toxin inhibits the production of proteins and leads to cell and tissue death.

If the toxin enters the bloodstream, it can damage the kidneys, heart, and nerves.


A person can develop also myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscles, and neuropathy. Neuropathy is nerve damage that can result in numbness, muscle weakness, pain, and tingling sensations.

A person can contract diphtheria from direct physical contact with:

A. Respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing

B. Secretions from the nose and throat, such as mucus and saliva-infected skin lesions


C. The infection can transmit from a person with the infection to any mucous membrane in another person.

Diphtheria can develop gradually, resulting in:

A. difficulty swallowing

B. sore throat


C. weakness

D. swollen glands in the neck

E. mild fever

F. appetite loss


G. hoarseness, if the disease has affected the larynx

People are also at an increased risk of contracting diphtheria if they:

1. Have an immune system disorder, such as AIDS

2. Live in unsanitary or crowded conditions.


People infected with diphtheria are usually unable to infect others 48 hours after they start treatment with antibiotics. It is advised that patients finish taking the full course of antibiotics to completely get rid of the bacteria.

Meanwhile, parents have been advised to ensure that their children get vaccinated against the infection as the country is still battling Lassa fever, measles, meningitis, and yellow fever.

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