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Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It has become a rare disease in the U.S. since 1980. However, Diphtheria remains endemic in developing countries. The countries of the former Soviet Union have reported over150,000 cases in an epidemic which began in 1990.
Respiratory diphtheria presents as a sore throat with low-grade fever and an adherent membrane of the tonsils, pharynx, or nose. Neck swelling is usually present in severe disease. Cutaneous diphtheria presents as infected skin lesions which lack a characteristic appearance.
Diphtheria is spread by intimate respiratory and physical contact. Cutaneous lesions are important in transmission.
Diphtheria can be treated by a special antitoxin or antibiotics. The antitoxin neutralizes the toxin released by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The antibiotics kill the bacterium. Penicillin and erythromycin are the antibiotics often used to treat diphtheria.