Understanding Diphtheria in Nigeria: A Comprehensive Guide

Published on Oct 16, 2023

Diphtheria is a contagious and potentially deadly bacterial infection that still poses a threat in various parts of the world, including Nigeria. We will break down what diphtheria is, its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and address some frequently asked questions regarding this disease.


What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a type of bacterium that releases a powerful toxin. The toxin can lead to severe damage to the respiratory system, heart, and nervous system. While diphtheria was a significant cause of illness and death in the past, vaccines have drastically reduced its prevalence.

Diphtheria in Nigeria

Diphtheria is not limited to any specific region; it can affect people worldwide. In Nigeria, the threat of diphtheria is still present, primarily due to factors such as low vaccination coverage, poor living conditions, and inadequate healthcare infrastructure. Diphtheria often affects children, but adults can contract the disease as well.

Causes of Diphtheria

Diphtheria is primarily caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The bacteria spread from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

Diphtheria can manifest with a range of symptoms, which can vary in severity. Common symptoms include:

  • Sore Throat: A persistent and painful sore throat is often one of the first symptoms.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever may accompany the sore throat.
  • Swelling of the Neck: Diphtheria can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to swell, leading to a condition known as "bull neck."
  • Difficulty Breathing: As the disease progresses, it can lead to difficulty in breathing and a high-pitched sound during inhalation.
  • Fatigue: Patients may experience weakness and extreme tiredness.
  • Hoarseness: The toxin produced by the bacterium can affect the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness or voice changes.
  • Pseudomembrane Formation: In severe cases, a greyish-white membrane may develop in the throat, making it hard to breathe or swallow.
  • Complications: If left untreated, diphtheria can lead to severe complications, including heart problems, paralysis, and even death.

Diagnosis of Diphtheria

To diagnose diphtheria, a healthcare provider will typically perform the following:

  • Physical Examination: The doctor will examine the patient's throat, neck, and other affected areas.
  • Throat Culture: A sample from the back of the throat is collected and sent to a laboratory to determine the presence of the bacterium.
  • Blood Test: A blood sample may be taken to check for the presence of the diphtheria toxin.
  • Imaging: In severe cases, imaging tests such as X-rays may be used to assess the condition of the airway.

Treatment for Diphtheria

Timely and appropriate treatment is crucial in managing diphtheria. Treatment typically involves:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics, such as penicillin or erythromycin, are administered to kill the bacteria.
  • Antitoxin: Diphtheria antitoxin is used to neutralize the toxins produced by the bacterium.
  • Isolation: Patients with diphtheria should be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Supportive Care: Patients may require supportive care, including oxygen therapy, fluids, and nutritional support.
  • Vaccination: Close contacts of the patient, especially children, should be vaccinated to prevent further outbreaks.
  • Surgery: In cases where the airway is severely obstructed, a surgical procedure known as a tracheostomy may be necessary to create an alternate air passage.

Frequently Asked Questions about Diphtheria

1. Is diphtheria a common disease in Nigeria?

Diphtheria is not as common as it once was, thanks to vaccination programs. However, it can still occur in Nigeria, especially in areas with low vaccination coverage and poor sanitation.


2. How can I prevent diphtheria?

The most effective way to prevent diphtheria is through vaccination. The DTP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), is routinely given to children. Ensuring your child receives all the recommended vaccinations is crucial.


3. Are adults at risk of diphtheria?

While diphtheria is more common in children, adults can contract the disease if they are not adequately vaccinated or have not received booster shots as recommended. It's important for adults to stay up to date with their vaccinations, especially if they are traveling to areas with a higher risk of diphtheria.


4. What should I do if I suspect someone has diphtheria?

If you suspect someone has diphtheria, seek medical attention immediately. Isolate the affected person to prevent the spread of the disease and inform healthcare providers of your suspicions.


5. Can diphtheria be fatal?

Yes, diphtheria can be fatal if left untreated. The disease can cause severe complications, including heart problems and paralysis. However, with timely and appropriate medical care, the prognosis is usually favorable.


6. Is diphtheria contagious?

Yes, diphtheria is highly contagious. It spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets, making it essential to isolate infected individuals and take precautions to prevent its transmission.


7. How effective is the diphtheria vaccine?

The diphtheria vaccine is highly effective. In most cases, it provides long-lasting immunity. Booster shots are recommended to maintain protection throughout one's life.


8. Can diphtheria be treated at home?

Diphtheria is a severe disease that requires professional medical care. It should not be treated at home. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect diphtheria.


9. What is the long-term outlook for diphtheria patients?

With prompt and appropriate treatment, most diphtheria patients recover fully without lasting effects. However, severe cases can lead to complications, which may require ongoing medical care.


10. How can I support diphtheria prevention efforts in Nigeria?

Supporting vaccination programs and spreading awareness about the importance of vaccination is crucial in preventing diphtheria. Encourage your community to stay up to date with their vaccinations and seek opportunities to support vaccination initiatives.


In conclusion, while diphtheria remains a concern in Nigeria, it can be prevented and effectively treated through vaccination and timely medical care. It is essential for individuals, communities, and healthcare systems to work together to reduce the impact of this potentially fatal disease. Stay informed, get vaccinated, and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect diphtheria. Together, we can combat this preventable disease and protect the health of our communities.

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DisclaimerThe information provided herein is for patient general knowledge only and should not be used during any medical emergency, diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Duplication for personal and commercial use must be authorized in writing by
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