An acute infectious disease that typically strikes the upper respiratory tract including the throat. It is caused by infection with the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Symptoms include sore throat and mild fever at first. As the disease progresses, a membranous substance forms in the throat that makes it difficult to breathe and swallow. Diphtheria can be deadly. It is one of the diseases that the DTP (Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis) and DTaP (Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis) vaccines are designed to prevent.
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A specific infectious disease due to the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae and its highly potent toxin; marked by severe inflammation that can form a membranous coating, with formation of a thick fibrinous exudate, of the mucous membrane of the pharynx, the nose, and sometimes the tracheobronchial tree; the toxin produces degeneration in peripheral nerves, heart muscle, and other tissues, d. had a high fatality rate, especially in children, but now rare because of an effective vaccine. [G. diphthera, leather]
- cutaneous d. a "punched-out" shallow ulcer sometimes bordered or followed by a bulla, resulting from infection of the skin by Corynebacterium diphtheriae; systemic manifestations are the same as those of pharyngeal d..
- false d. SYN: diphtheroid (1).
- faucial d. severe pharyngitis affecting the fauces, the usual site affected by infection with Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
- laryngeal d. d. affecting the larynx, usually with asphyxiation due to obstruction of the airway by the membrane that forms, with fatal outcome. SYN: laryngotracheal d..

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diph·the·ria dif-'thir-ē-ə, dip- n an acute febrile contagious disease typically marked by the formation of a false membrane esp. in the throat and caused by a bacterium of the genus Corynebacterium (C. diphtheriae) which produces a toxin causing inflammation of the heart and nervous system
diph·the·ri·al -ē-əl adj

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an acute highly contagious infection, caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, generally affecting the throat but occasionally other mucous membranes and the skin. The disease is spread by direct contact with a patient or carrier or by contaminated milk. After an incubation period of 2-6 days a sore throat, weakness, and mild fever develop. Later, a soft grey membrane forms across the throat, constricting the air passages and causing difficulty in breathing and swallowing; a tracheostomy may be necessary. Bacteria multiply at the site of infection and release a toxin into the bloodstream, which damages heart and nerves. Death from heart failure or general collapse can follow within four days but prompt administration of antitoxin and penicillin arrests the disease. An effective immunization programme has now made diphtheria rare in most Western countries (see also Schick test).

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diph·the·ria (dif-thērґe-ə) [Gr. diphthera leather + -ia] an acute infectious disease caused by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, acquired by contact with an infected person or a carrier; it is usually confined to the upper respiratory tract. A prominent characteristic is formation of a tough false membrane that is attached firmly to the underlying tissue and bleeds if forcibly removed. In the most serious infections, the membrane begins in the pharyngeal area (pharyngeal d.) on the tonsils, then spreads to the uvula, soft palate, pharyngeal wall, larynx, trachea, and bronchial tree, where it may cause bronchial obstruction and death by hypoxia. Systemic effects, chiefly myocarditis and peripheral neuritis, are caused by the exotoxin produced by C. diphtheriae.

Medical dictionary. 2011.

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