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Diphtheria is an infection of the nose and throat caused by infection with Corynebacterium diphtheriae, an anaerobic Gram-positive bacteria. Diphtheria can also affect the skin, although this is less common.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection that is spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual or through inhaling infected particulates present in the air. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, they release millions of the bacteria into the atmosphere which remain suspended in the atmosphere inside tiny droplets of saliva.
These invisible droplets may then be breathed in through the nose or mouth by an uninfected individual. Less commonly, the bacteria is transmitted through people sharing objects such as towels, clothes or cooking utensils.
When a person is infected with the bacteria, it usually takes a few hours or days for the bacteria to multiply enough to cause symptoms. This is referred to as the incubation period. The incubation period of the respiratory form of diphtheria is usually between 2 and 5 days, with a gradual onset of disease. Children are the most commonly affected by diphtheria but adults and older individuals can also be infected.
Symptoms of the infection include: