Diphtheria is a serious bacterial disease that can cause significant damage, such as injury to the heart, kidneys and other organs. Nerve damage and paralysis can also result. The disease can be spread from an infected person (or someone who carries the bacteria but has no symptoms) by coughing and sneezing. Diphtheria can also be spread by contaminated objects like toys.


Signs and symptoms of diphtheria may include:

  • A sore throat and hoarseness
  • Painful swallowing
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in the neck
  • A thick coating on the back of the nose or throat. It may white or grayish. The coating makes it hard to breathe or swallow.
  • Mild fever (101 degrees or less) and chills

Signs and symptoms usually begin two to five days after a person becomes infected.


The diphtheria vaccine is usually combined with vaccines that protect against tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). This three-in-one vaccine is known as the DTaP vaccine for children. For adolescents and adults, it is called the Tdap vaccine.

For the best protection against diphtheria, children need to receive all 5 recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine. These doses should be given to children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.