Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection caused by toxin-producing strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae and Corynebacterium ulcerans. In some cases, it can be life-threatening.
Diphtheria was a common cause of death in children up until the 1940s but occurs mainly in countries with poor levels of immunisation. Cases in Australia are rare now due to high immunisation rates.
If you have any diphtheria symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately. The doctor may notice a greyish-white membrane in your throat and if diphtheria is suspected. a throat swab will be taken and sent to a laboratory. Special laboratory tests are needed to detect and diagnose diphtheria.
Diphtheria infection is treated with antibiotics and antitoxin to stop the infection from developing and may also require a course of vaccination if unimmunised. Some people may require hospitalisation.
Laboratories, hospitals, school principals and directors of childcare centres are required to notify cases of diphtheria to the local Public Health Unit under the Public Health Act, 2010. Public health units investigate cases and their contacts to identify possible sources of infection and prevent further spread. Cases are isolated until they are not infectious.
If you or your child have symptoms of diphtheria and you are concerned, speak to your doctor right away, or in an emergency call 000. For health advice, you can call also healthdirect on
1800 022 222 for free 24 hour health advice or speak to your local pharmacist.
For more information, please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.