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Diphtheria disease & vaccine quick facts



Quick Facts

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.  Complications include heart inflammation (myocarditis), neurologic inflammation (neuritis), kidney damage, and airway obstruction. Death occurs in 5-10 percent of respiratory cases. 
  • 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. 
  • Diphtheria is contagious and spreads from person to person through respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing). It can also be transmitted if a person touches the wound of a person with diphtheria or from touching objects contaminated with the bacteria. Vaccinated individuals can still spread the bacteria because vaccination does not eliminate carriage of Corynebacterium diphtheriae in the back of the throat or on the skin. 
  • Treatment options for diphtheria include the use of the diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics such as penicillin and erythromycin. 
  • While diphtheria is extremely rare in U.S. and other developed countries with good sanitation,  it is still endemic in various areas of the world, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, and countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. 

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. 
  • 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.   
  • Vaccinated individuals can still spread the diphtheria bacteria because vaccination does not eliminate carriage of Corynebacterium diphtheriae in the back of the throat or on the skin.  
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of the June 28, 2024 data release, there have been 213,926 reports of diphtheria vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries, and deaths following diphtheria vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 3,458 related deaths, 25,633 hospitalizations, and 3,786 related disabilities. Some of the adverse reactions of the combination vaccines containing diphtheria include a temperature of 105 F. or higher, collapse or shock-like state (hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes), persistent crying lasting three hours or more, convulsions with or without fever, and encephalopathy (coma, decreased level of consciousness, prolonged convulsions).
  • As of July 1, 2024, there had been 6,532 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following diphtheria vaccination, including 881 deaths and 5,651 serious injuries.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

  • Infanrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a 3-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under seven years of age.
  • Daptacel, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., is a 3-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under seven years of age.
  • Pediarix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a 5-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, hepatitis B recombinant and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children under seven years of age.
  • Kinrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a 4-in-1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, acellular pertussis, and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children four to six years old.
  • Quadracel, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, is a 4-in-1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid, acellular pertussis, and inactivated poliovirus vaccine for children 4 to 6 years old.
  • Pentacel, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., is a 5-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated poliovirus, and Haemophilus b conjugate (tetanus toxoid conjugate) vaccines for children under four years old.
  • VAXELIS, manufactured by MCM Vaccine Company, is a 6-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated poliovirus, Haemophilus b conjugate (Meningococcal Protein Conjugate) and Hepatitis B (Recombinant) vaccine for children six weeks through four years of age.
  • Diphtheria and Tetanus Toxoids Adsorbed, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., is a 2-in-1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid vaccine for children under seven years of age.
  • Adacel, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., is a 3-in-1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine for those ten years or older.
  • Boostrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a 3-in-1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine for those ten years or older.
  • TDVAX, manufactured by MassBiologics, is a 2-in-1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those seven years of age and older.
  • TENIVAC, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., is a 2-in-1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those seven years of age and older.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.

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.


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