Diphtheria: Unveiling the Menace of the Silent Killer

Diphtheria, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium Diphtheriae, has long been a silent terror, afflicting countless lives across the globe. Its origins date back to ancient times, with historical evidence suggesting its existence in the writings of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician. Over the centuries, diphtheria has evolved from an enigmatic force to a well-understood medical challenge, thanks to advancements in science and public health.

However, advancements in medical science are not yet universal and diphtheria is still regarded as a considerable threat to some regions of the world. Earlier this year, the WHO received a report from Nigeria that some 5,898 suspected cases of the disease had been recorded in the first half of 2023 and a total of 8,353 suspected cases since the outbreak was first reported. 56.5% of this total have been confirmed with a mortality rate of roughly 6.1%.

With all this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the causes of diphtheria, symptoms, how it can be treated, and afflicted regions.

Causes and Symptoms

Diphtheria spreads through respiratory droplets, primarily via coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It can also spread through contaminated personal items. Once the bacteria enter the body, they produce a toxin that can lead to the formation of a thick, greyish membrane in the nose, throat, and occasionally other parts of the body. Common symptoms include sore throat, fever, swollen neck, difficulty breathing, and a characteristic barking cough.

Treatments and Vaccination

Prompt medical intervention is crucial for diphtheria treatment. Antitoxins and antibiotics are typically administered to eliminate the bacterium and counteract the harmful effects of the toxin. Patients might require supportive care, including respiratory assistance, to combat breathing difficulties. Vaccination remains the most effective preventive measure, with the diphtheria vaccine often administered as a combined vaccine with tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) as part of routine childhood immunization programs.

Childhood vaccination

Prominent Locations and Global Impact

While diphtheria has been largely controlled in many developed countries through widespread vaccination, it continues to pose a threat in regions with limited access to healthcare and vaccination programs. Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, parts of Southeast Asia, and pockets of the Indian subcontinent are considered high-risk regions due to lower vaccination coverage and inadequate healthcare infrastructure.

Diphtheria in Ireland

Ireland, like many other European countries, has experienced fluctuations in diphtheria cases throughout its history. The introduction of vaccination programs in the mid-20th century led to a significant decline in cases. However, sporadic outbreaks have occurred, often due to lapses in vaccination coverage. The Irish healthcare system remains vigilant, emphasizing the importance of vaccination and regular booster shots to maintain herd immunity and prevent the resurgence of the disease.


Despite the progress made in controlling diphtheria, the threat remains ever-present, particularly in regions where immunization programs are lacking and fresh reports of diphtheria outbreaks continue to come in from these regions. Continuous efforts to improve access to healthcare, increase awareness, and ensure widespread vaccination coverage are crucial in the ongoing battle against this silent yet formidable adversary. It is only through sustained vigilance and global cooperation that we can hope to relegate diphtheria to the annals of history, sparing future generations from its pernicious grasp.

Image credit: Slava Bowman Upsplash.com

829 total views103 views since Jun 2024