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Diphtheria (Greek διφθέρα (diphthera) "pair of leather scrolls") is an upper respiratory tract illness caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a facultative anaerobic, Gram-positive bacterium. It is characterized by sore throat, low fever, and an adherent membrane (a pseudomembrane) on the tonsils, pharynx, and/or nasal cavity. A milder form of diphtheria can be restricted to the skin. Less common consequences include myocarditis (about 20% of cases) and peripheral neuropathy (about 10% of cases). Diphtheria is extremely rare in the United States and Canada.
Diphtheria is a contagious disease spread by direct physical contact or breathing the aerosolized secretions of infected individuals. Historically quite common, diphtheria has largely been eradicated in industrialized nations through widespread vaccination. In the United States, for example, there were 52 reported cases of diphtheria between 1980 and 2000; between 2000 and 2007, there were only three cases as the diphtheria–pertussis–tetanus (DPT) vaccine is recommended for all school-age children. Boosters of the vaccine are recommended for adults, since the benefits of the vaccine decrease with age without constant re-exposure; they are particularly recommended for those traveling to areas where the disease has not been eradicated.
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