Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease caused by certain germs occasionally found in the throat of apparently normal people! These people are knows as “carriers” of the germs. They do not actually have the disease. Sometimes the germs are found in other areas, such as in open wounds. Years ago diphtheria attacked many thousands of children. It is rarely seen today because most children are now protected by DPT shots during infancy (“D” presents diphtheria). Milk and other foods may also contain diphtheria organism, a good reason why all milk for human use should either be pasteurized or boiled.
Children with large tonsilitis and adenoids are more suceptible to diphtheria, especially if they have not been given the DPT shots in infancy, Greatest danger arise from blockage of the windpipes due to infection in the throat. This cause strangling, and the patient may die unless quickly relieved by a tracheotomy. Diphtheria also damages herat, the brain, and the kidneys. Diphtheria germs produce powerful toxins or poisons which not only damage the nearby cells but effect distant organs, such as the kidneys. The toxins are carried to these areas by the bloodstream. Heart failure may occur because the muscle fibers become weakened and are unable to contract as they should.
Course of the Disease:
Diphtheria begins with a sore throat within a few days after the patient has been exposed to the disease. A grayish membrane form in the throat, and there is pain and difficulty in swallowing. Soon the child becomes dangerously ill with a high fever, and breathing may be obstructed becuase of the swealling in the throat. Large tender glands develop in the neck, and the ears may be tender and inflamed. Pneumonia and bronchitis are common but the most dangerous complications is mycarditis, or inflamation of the heart. The nerves of throat may be partially paralyzed, and the kidneys damaged, sometimes permanently.
All young children should be protected against diphtheria by means of DPT shot. In case of an ipedimic of diphtheria, all children under two years of age should be given antoxin with out delay. Patients with diphtheria should be kept in bed and isolated from the community, preferably in a hospital specialising in the treatment of contagious diseases. Tube feeding and continous oxygen may be necessary in the more severe cases. Penicillin and erythromycin are of value in treating the complications. The patients should remain in bed for several weeks, and should not be allowed up until the electrocardiogram has returned to normal. Recovery is often slow, particularly when the heart is involved. Large doses of vitamins B and C are advisable in all such cases.