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Diphtheria illustration

What is diphtheria?

A horrible bug which infects the nose and throat, causing fever, sore throat, swollen glands, and difficulty breathing or swallowing in people travelling to areas including Indonesia, India, South America and Africa.

Diphtheria illustration

Risk areas for Diphtheria

Map of risk areas for Diphtheria
  • Key fact

    Up to 10% of people with diphtheria die from complications.2

  • How do you get diphtheria?

    Usually through inhaling infected droplets spread by coughing or sneezing.4 It is also transmitted by prolonged close contact with someone infected with the bacteria which cause the disease, including sharing items such as cutlery, clothing or bedding.1

  • Which countries are affected by diphtheria?

    Common in many countries in Asia, the Middle East, eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the South Pacific (see map), while outbreaks have also been reported in other countries.1,4

  • What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

    The main symptom is a grey/white membrane (coating) in the throat which can lead to difficulty in breathing or swallowing.1,4 It can also cause fever, sore throat and swollen glands in the neck.1

  • How serious is diphtheria?

    Severe diphtheria can cause difficulty breathing which can be fatal.4 There may also be serious effects on the heart and nervous system.6 It can require a stay in hospital and you may need to get prompt treatment with antibiotics and antitoxin.4

  • Can I prevent getting diphtheria?

    You can take the following precautions to help reduce your risk of infection:

    • Visit your nearest convenient pharmacy or specialist travel health clinic for a risk assessment before your trip
    • Wash your hands frequently, either with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitisers5
    • Avoid contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness5
    • Avoid sharing personal items such as eating and drinking utensils1

Ready to get started? Check now for your nearest travel health clinic.

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* This list is not exhaustive and other travel health providers are available.

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  1. Conditions. Diphtheria. January 2022. Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)
  2. World Health Organization. Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Diphtheria. Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)
  3. World Health Organization. Global Health Observatory data repository. Diphtheria Reported cases by country. 2022. Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2024. Section 5 Travel-Associated Infections & Diseases. Diphtheria. May 2023. Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2024. Section 11 Posttravel Evaluation. Respiratory Infections. May 2023.
    Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)
  6. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions. Diphtheria. February 2022. Available online: (Last accessed May 2023)

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