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Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection that affects the upper respiratory tract (throat and nose). Occasionally it can affect the skin.


It is usually spread through coughing and sneezing, through close contact or sharing of items with someone who has already been infected.


Diphtheria is widespread in many areas outside of the UK, including:


  • the South Pacific
  • Asia
  • Eastern Europe
  • the Caribbean
  • the Middle East


However, places deemed high risk can alter. For the most recent information please consult the
TravelHealth Pro country guides



The incubation period of diphtheria is 2 to 5 days. After contracting the infection, symptoms will begin to present themselves within this time.


Common symptoms of diphtheria include:


  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty in swallowing and breathing
  • a high temperature (38C or above)
  • feeling nauseous
  • thick grey-white coating in the back of your throat
  • swollen neck glands

In the more unlikely scenario where diphtheria affects the skin (cutaneous diphtheria), symptoms can include:


  • Ulcers surrounded by red and sore skin
  • Pus-filled blisters on your legs, hands and feet



Diagnosis of diphtheria is usually achieved through a swab test of the mouth and throat. Prescribed antibiotics are available to kill the diphtheria bacteria and other medicines are also available to stop the effects of the harmful substances produced by this bacteria.



Prevention and Vaccination


The best way to avoid diphtheria while travelling (especially to those countries where it is widespread) is to be fully vaccinated. If you were vaccinated against diphtheria more than 10 years ago, it may be necessary to receive a booster vaccination.


The vaccination consists of a single injection, which may cause mild discomfort. The vaccine is inactivated and therefore, cannot cause the diphtheria infection itself. The vaccination should be received two weeks prior to departure. However, if needed, it can be given up to a day before.


During your consultation with an Ahmeys travel health practitioner, you will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.

Faheem Ahmed

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Providing NHS services

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158 Oxford Road
Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2LA
Contact us at:
01865 689 149

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