Official websites use

A website belongs to an official government organization in the City of Boston.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Heat Emergency in Boston
Mayor Wu announced a heat emergency in the City of Boston through Wednesday, July 17. Cooling centers will be open at 14 BCYF community centers Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Last updated:


This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about diphtheria.

Diphtheria is a disease caused by bacteria. It is rare in the United States because most people have gotten vaccinated. People who become ill with diphtheria can have severe swelling of the throat, nose, and tonsils. In some people, diphtheria can be deadly. Some strains of the germ produce a toxin that damages the heart and nerves.

The basics

Who gets diphtheria?

Diphtheria is more likely to affect those without immunization. There are different types of vaccines against diphtheria used in different age groups. These vaccines often also provide protection against tetanus (lockjaw) and pertussis (whooping cough).

How serious is diphtheria?

About 1 out of every 10 people who get diphtheria will not recover. This risk is higher in children younger than 5 years of age.


What are the symptoms?

Infection usually causes sore throat, fever, and chills. A thick coating may develop in the nose or back of the throat, making it hard to breathe or swallow.

How does diphtheria spread?

Diphtheria spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and other people breathe in the infected droplets. A person can spread the disease for up to 2 weeks after infection. People who live in the same house as someone with diphtheria are at highest risk for infection. They should get tested by a healthcare provider. Healthcare providers will give antibiotics to prevent the illness. Some people may also need the diphtheria vaccine.


When should someone get vaccinated against diphtheria?

Most children in the United States get the DTaP vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis at the following ages:

  • One dose at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months
  • A fourth dose at 15 through 18 months; and
  • A fifth dose at 4 through 6 years of age

Adults should get vaccinated against diphtheria every 10 years. If you are not sure that your family is up to date, check with your healthcare provider.


What is the treatment for diphtheria?

Health care providers use antibiotics and antitoxins to treat diphtheria. Supportive treatment such as rest, plenty of fluids, and fever reducing medicines are also important.

Back to top