Diphtheria (Corynebacterium diphtheria)Difficulty of breathing in a young boy with diphtheria

Diphtheria is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria. The disease can affect the nose, throat or skin. One can catch the infection by coming in close contact with an infected person. Infection can lead to serious illness. Infants and very young children have an increased risk of developing complications from diphtheria. This is because the bacteria may attack their vital organs.

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Diphtheria infection begins with a sore throat and slight fever. The infection may then worsen and cause a thick coating on the back of the throat or nose to form, which leads to difficulty breathing. Symptoms can also include skin infections and temporary muscle paralysis.


Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria and is spread mainly through respiratory droplets in the air formed when coughing or sneezing. You can also catch it by touching an item that was previously touched by an infected person and then touching your eyes or mouth.


There are antibiotics available to treat diphtheria. However, one in every 10 people infected with diphtheria may die, even with treatment.


Diphtheria infection can be prevented through immunization. Manitoba has a provincial immunization program, which provides free, publicly-funded vaccines to those who are eligible.

Other precautions can be taken, including practicing good hand hygiene, covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, and avoiding sharing of personal items such as water bottles, lip gloss and cigarettes.

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