Diphtheria - Symptoms and Signs

What were your diphtheria symptoms and signs?

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What are the signs and symptoms of diphtheria?

The symptoms of respiratory diphtheria usually begin between two to five days after exposure to the diphtheria bacterium (the incubation period). Symptoms of respiratory diphtheria may include the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • Hoarseness
  • Foul smelling nasal discharge
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing

With the progression of respiratory diphtheria, the infected individual may also develop an adherent gray membrane (pseudomembrane) forming over the lining tissues of the tonsils and/or nasopharynx. This pseudomembrane is necrotic (dead) tissue that develops from the effects of the diphtheria toxin. Individuals with severe disease may also develop neck swelling and enlarged lymph nodes of the neck, leading to a "bull-neck" appearance. Extension of the pseudomembrane into the larynx and trachea can lead to obstruction of the airway with subsequent suffocation and death.

The dissemination of the diphtheria toxin to the rest of the body can also lead to systemic disease, causing complications such as inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) and neurologic problems such as paralysis of the soft palate, vision problems, and muscle weakness.

Cutaneous diphtheria is characterized by a nonhealing skin ulcer covered by a gray-brown membrane. It is typically a localized infection that is rarely associated with systemic complications.

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