Diphtheria - Treatments

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What is the treatment for diphtheria?

If diphtheria is suspected in a patient, prompt treatment should be undertaken even before confirmatory lab results are available. Patients should also be placed in isolation to prevent further transmission of the disease.

Diphtheria antitoxin is the mainstay of therapy. It neutralizes circulating diphtheria toxin and reduces the progression of the disease. The effectiveness of diphtheria antitoxin is greatest if it is administered early in the course of the disease. The CDC can assist in obtaining the diphtheria antitoxin. Antitoxin is not recommended for asymptomatic carriers and it is usually of no value in localized cutaneous diphtheria.

Antibiotics should also be administered as soon as possible to patients with suspected diphtheria. Antibiotics help eradicate the bacteria, thereby stopping toxin production, and they also help to prevent transmission of diphtheria to close contacts. Penicillin and erythromycin are the recommended antibiotics. Asymptomatic carriers, as well as all close contacts potentially exposed to diphtheria, also require antibiotic treatment. Affected individuals are usually not contagious after 48 hours of antibiotic administration.

Supportive measures, such as inserting a breathing tube (intubation), may be necessary if the patient cannot breathe on their own or if there is the potential for airway obstruction. Potential cardiac and neurologic complications also need to be closely followed and addressed in consultation with the proper specialist.

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Comment from: Irene, 75 or over Female Published: September 09

I am now 88 years old, but I had an experience when I was about 8 years old when the doctor diagnosed me with diphtheria. He said he would try a new theory on treating me...and it was with shots of horse urine. Well, it worked, because I have had a long, happy, and healthy life, thanks to that doctor and God.

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