Diphtheria is an extremely infectious disease transmitted from person to person by immediated contact with one suffering from disease, or with a "diphtheria carrier" that is, a person who is not sick and is probably immune to the disease but carries diphtheria germs in his nose and throat.
The disease may also be transmitted by articles, utensils, or tableware used by a sick person or "carrier"
Cat and dogs are sick with it and may transmit it to humans or acquire it from them.The disease affects children mostly, but may affect adults also.
The disease develops in a couple of days after exposure, with fever, slightly sore throat, headache and pains in the muscles and joints.
In a day or two the throat in the region of the tonsils becomes covered with a dirty-grayish, sometimes yellowish-looking, membrane, which cannot be wiped away as it can be in tonsillitis.
The glands on both sides of the neck become swollen and painful, and the child seems very sick. A culture taken from the throat will show the presence of the diphtheria bacillus.
Diphtheria antitoxin is life-saving, and doctors usually inject the antitoxin immediately, even before the culture report is obtained, if they are suspicious of diphtheria,as there is no harm done if the report is negative.
If the laboratory report is positive , the 24 hour gain in the treatment of the disease may be a life and death race won.
In the 24 hours after antitoxin injection, the fever drops, the throat membrane loaded with billions of germs shrivels,and the child is on his way to recovery.
A day or longer makes a great difference in this disease, because serious complications may set in. The disease may spread further into the throat and affect the larynx.
It may affect the nerves in the neck and cause paralysis of the throat. The heart is very often affected in diphtheria, and the surest way to prevent this is by giving antitoxin early and keeping the child n bed 3 or 4 weeks.
Nowadays "penicillin" is given at the same time as the antitoxin, and it makes doubly sure of preventing heart and other complications.
The "schick Test" and toxin-antitoxin are the classical preventives of diphtheria, and have certainly reduced the number of diphtheria cases and the death rate from this disease.
But good hygiene, cleanliness and exclusion of animals from the home will forever remain the rational preventive measures against diphtheria and many other infections.