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Diagnosis and Treatment

Getting treatment for diphtheria quickly is important.

Diagnosis of diphtheria is usually made based on signs and symptoms. A swab specimen is taken from the throat to test for the bacteria. A doctor can also take a sample from a skin lesion (like a sore) and try and grow the bacteria to confirm the diagnosis of diphtheria.

It is important to start treatment right away if diphtheria is suspected and not to wait for laboratory confirmation. In the U.S, before there was treatment for diphtheria, up to half of the people who got the disease died from it.

Diphtheria treatment today involves:

  • Using diphtheria antitoxin to neutralize (counteract) the toxin produced by the bacteria
  • Using antibiotics to kill and eliminate diphtheria bacteria

About 1 out of 10 people who gets diphtheria will die.

Diphtheria patients are usually kept in isolation, until they are no longer able to infect others — usually about 48 hours after antibiotic treatment begins. The disease is usually not able to be spread after the patient has been on antibiotics for 48 hours. After the course of antibiotic treatment is finished, the doctor will run tests to make sure the bacteria are not in the patient’s body anymore.

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