What is it?

  • An infection caused by bacteria
  • These bacteria produce toxin, which can cause serious conditions

Signs and Symptoms

  • Usually begins with a sore throat, fever and loss of appetite
  • Within a day or two, the person experiences severe throat pain and becomes very weak
  • Breathing becomes very difficult and the skin may start to look bluish in colour from the lack of oxygen
  • The toxin may also cause damage to the heart, nerves, and kidneys

How do you get it?

  • Diphtheria is spread through close direct contact between people or through the air when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.


  • Diphtheria is treated with an injection of antitoxin (a medication that blocks the effects of the bacteria). This treatment must be started as soon as possible to reduce possible damage to the heart
  • Contacts of a person with diphtheria will need to be tested and may be given antibiotics to prevent infection


  • There is a vaccination for diphtheria that is part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule
  • See the immunization fact sheets for more information

Diphtheria is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Local Medical Officer of Health.