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Diphtheria illustration

What is diphtheria?

Horrible bug which infects the nose and throat, causing fever, nausea, swollen glands, and difficulty breathing or swallowing in people travelling to areas including Asia, the Middle East, eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the South Pacific

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 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 The disease is more common in countries which do not offer routine vaccination.

  • 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, nausea, headache 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. 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

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  1. Conditions. Diphtheria. February 2018. Available online: (Last accessed May 2021)
  2. World Health Organization. Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Diphtheria. September 2018. Available online: (Last accessed May 2021)
  3. World Health Organization. Immunization Monitoring. Diphtheria Reported Cases. October 2020. Available online: (Last accessed May 2021)
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2020. Chapter 4 Travel-Related Infectious Diseases. Diphtheria. June 2019. Available online: (Last accessed May 2021)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yellow book 2020. Chapter 11 Posttravel Evaluation. Respiratory Infections. June 2019.
    Available online: (Last accessed May 2021)

UK-BOTB-2100021 May 2021