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Diphtheria Disease & Vaccine Information

Find the Information You Need to Make an Informed Vaccine Decision
Updated August 13, 2022


Diphtheria: The Disease

Diphtheria is a rare toxin-mediated respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae (C. diphtheriae). The production of the toxin only occurs when C. diphtheriae is affected by the specific virus which contains the genetic toxin information. When this happens, the serious disease will occur. There are four different types (biotypes) of C. diphtheriae – belfanti, gravis, intermedius, and mitis. All strains can cause toxin production that can lead to serious disease.1

Diphtheria causes a gray-green to black, thick fiber-like covering (pseudomembrane) in the back of the throat and on the tonsils. The pseudomembrane can restrict breathing and swallowing.2 Learn more about Diphtheria….

Diphtheria: The Vaccine

In the U.S. today, diphtheria vaccine is administered only in a combination shot (DTaP, DT, Tdap, Td) that contains vaccines for tetanus (T), diphtheria (D) and possibly pertussis (whooping cough) (P). It can also be found in combination with vaccines for polio, Haemophilus influenzae B (HIB), and hepatitis B. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved twelve different combination vaccine that include diphtheria toxoid vaccine. There are different rules for use of these vaccines by different age groups.3

Not all diphtheria-containing vaccines have been studied in clinical trials to prove the safety and effectiveness of giving the shot simultaneously with other licensed vaccines. Check the product inserts for more information about administering vaccines at the same time with other vaccines. Learn more about Diphtheria Vaccine….

Diphtheria Quick Facts

diphtheria
 

Diphtheria

  • Respiratory diphtheria is a rare bacterial infection with symptoms occurring 2-5 days after exposure. Symptoms include a sore throat, croupy cough, low-grade fever, runny nose, breathing problems, and a fiber-like coating on the tonsils, pharynx, or inside of the nose. Neck swelling (bull neck) is usually present in severe disease.4 Complications include heart inflammation (myocarditis), neurologic inflammation (neuritis), kidney damage, and airway obstruction. Death occurs in 5-10 percent of respiratory cases.5
  • Cutaneous diphtheria presents as infected skin lesions that lack a uniform appearance. It is most frequently seen in the tropics or among persons experiencing homelessness. Complications occur less often from this form of diphtheria.6

Diphtheria Vaccine

  • There are 12 different diphtheria-containing vaccines licensed for use in the United States, with eight diphtheria combination vaccines available for use in infants and children. These combination vaccines may contain one or more of the following vaccines: pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, Hib, and/ or polio. For adults, four diphtheria combination vaccines are available, with two vaccines containing both tetanus and diphtheria toxoids approved for use in adults and children ages seven years and older and two vaccines containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis approved for use in children and adults ages 10 years and older.7
  • Adverse reactions to combination vaccines containing diphtheria include a temperature of 105F or higher, collapse/shock, persistent crying, convulsions, coma, uncontrolled epilepsy, progressive encephalopathy, and death.8 9

Learn More About Diphtheria and Diphtheria Vaccine

NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Diphtheria and the Diphtheria vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents provided on this webpage. NVIC provides highly referenced information that allow the public to click through to the reference material used to compile this information, such as the manufacturer product information inserts maintained on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's website and vaccine information statements issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As you consider vaccination, we encourage the public to educate themselves on the disease and vaccine and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


References:

[1] Communication and Education Branch, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diphtheria. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2015; p. 107. Aug. 18, 2021.

[2] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms. In: Diphtheria. May 26, 2020.

[3] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines Licensed for Use in the United States. July 5, 2022.

[4] Communication and Education Branch, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diphtheria. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2015; p. 108. Aug. 18, 2021.

[5] Communication and Education Branch, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diphtheria. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2015; p. 109. Aug. 18, 2021.

[6] Communication and Education Branch, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diphtheria. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2015; p. 108. Aug. 18, 2021.

[7] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines Licensed for Use in the United States Dec. 1, 2021.

[8] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) VIS. In: Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). Aug. 6, 2021.

[9] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) VIS. In: Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). Aug. 6, 2021.

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