Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Diphtheria is a serious illness. Doctors treat it immediately and aggressively with these medications:
- An antitoxin. After doctors confirm a preliminary diagnosis of diphtheria, the infected child or adult receives an antitoxin. The antitoxin, injected into a vein or muscle, neutralizes the diphtheria toxin already circulating in the body. Before giving antitoxin, doctors may perform skin allergy tests to make sure that the infected person doesn't have an allergy to the antitoxin. People who are allergic must first be desensitized to the antitoxin. Doctors accomplish this by initially giving small doses of the antitoxin and then gradually increasing the dosage.
- Antibiotics. Diphtheria is also treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or erythromycin. Antibiotics help kill bacteria in the body, clearing up infections. Antibiotics reduce to just a few days the length of time that a person with diphtheria is contagious.
Children and adults who have diphtheria often need to be in the hospital for treatment. They may be isolated in an intensive care unit because diphtheria can spread easily to anyone not immunized against the disease.
Doctors may remove some of the thick, gray covering in the throat if the covering is obstructing breathing.
If you've been exposed to a person infected with diphtheria, see a doctor for testing and possible treatment. Your doctor may give you a prescription for antibiotics to help prevent you from developing the disease. You may also need a booster dose of the diphtheria vaccine.
Doctors treat people who are found to be carriers of diphtheria with antibiotics to clear their systems of the bacteria, as well.
- Diphtheria. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs089/en/. Accessed Feb. 9, 2011.
- Diphtheria. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec14/ch172/ch172c.html. Accessed Feb. 9, 2011.
- Daybell DK, et al. Epidemiology and clinical features of diphtheria. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 9, 2011.
- Overturf GD. Corynebacterium diphtheriae. In: Long SS. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Revised Reprint. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2009. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-7020-3468-8..50002-X&isbn=978-0-7020-3468-8&uniqId=235245982-7. Accessed Feb. 10, 2011.
- Daybell DK, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of diphtheria. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 9, 2011.
- Recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years and older — United States, 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html. Accessed Feb. 19, 2013.
- Tetanus, diphtheria (Td) or tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-td-tdap.pdf. Accessed Feb. 10, 2011.
- Bishai WR, et al. Diphtheria and other infections caused by corynebacteria and related species. In: Fauci AS, et al. Harrison's Online. 17th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2008. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aid=2898307. Accessed Feb. 10, 2011.
- Recommended immunization schedule for persons aged 0 through 18 years — United States, 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html. Accessed Feb. 19, 2013.