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Can Diphtheria cause injury and/or death?

Updated January 19, 2023

There is a gap in medical knowledge in terms of predicting who will have a mild case of diphtheria and who will have a serious or even deadly case of it. Complications from diphtheria include myocarditis (inflammation of the heart wall), and neuritis (inflammatory of the peripheral nervous system). Additional complications include paralysis, which may result in respiratory insufficiency, and pneumonia. Infants who develop diphtheria are more likely to suffer from middle ear infections and respiratory complications related to airway blockage.

Death from diphtheria is estimated to occur in five to ten percent of all cases. Persons more at risk from death are those older than 40 years of age or less than five.1

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Diphtheria and the Diphtheria vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, 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.


[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. 108. Aug. 18, 2021.
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