Diphtheria is an acute illness caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is spread primarily by respiratory droplets (droplet spread) produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, but it can also be spread by discharge from skin lesions or, rarely, through fomites (contaminated objects). Since universal vaccination against diphtheria began in the 1940s, diphtheria has been very uncommon in the United States; however, the disease still occurs in developing countries and countries of the former Soviet Union and presents a risk to susceptible travelers.
Resources for the general public
- Diphtheria and diphtheria vaccination, CDC
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine information statement
- Tetanus, diphtheria vaccine information statement
- Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccine information statement
Resources for health care professionals
- Diphtheria is a reportable condition in King County: See disease reporting requirements
- Diphtheria chapter from Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, CDC
- Diphtheria chapter from Health Information for International Travel, CDC
Purpose of surveillance:
- To facilitate diagnosis of toxin-producing diphtheria infections
- To facilitate appropriate treatment of cases, disease control measures, and preventive treatment for contacts of cases
- To identify other exposed persons at risk for diphtheria
No cases of toxigenic diphtheria have been reported in Washington state since 1981.