Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that spreads easily and occurs quickly. It mainly affects the nose and throat. Children under 5 and adults over 60 years old are particularly at risk for contracting the infection.
In its early stages, diphtheria can be mistaken for a bad sore throat. A low-grade fever and swollen neck glands are the other early symptoms.
The toxin, or poison, caused by the bacteria can lead to a thick coating (or membrane) in the nose, throat, or airway, which makes a diphtheria infection different from other more common infections that cause sore throat (such as strep throat). This coating is usually fuzzy gray or black and can cause breathing problems and difficulty in swallowing.
As the infection progresses, someone may:
have difficulty breathing or swallowing
complain of double vision
have slurred speech
even show signs of going into shock (skin that's pale and cold, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and an anxious appearance)
Since a vaccine has been created, Diphtheria is very rare in the United States and Europe, where health officials have been immunizing children against it for decades.