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Diphtheria Treatment and Medications
The mainstays of treatment for diphtheria include diphtheria antitoxin, antibiotics, and supportive care. If diphtheria is suspected in a patient, treatment (antibiotics and antitoxin) should be initiated as soon as possible, even before confirmatory diagnostic test results are available, in order to improve the chances of a favorable outcome. Patients with suspected diphtheria should be placed in isolation in order to prevent transmission of the disease to others.
The effective treatment of diphtheria involves the early administration of diphtheria antitoxin, which neutralizes the circulating diphtheria toxin and reduces the progression of the disease. It is not effective against toxin that has already bound to body tissue. Diphtheria antitoxin is derived from horses, and it is only available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Individuals who are asymptomatic carriers and those with localized cutaneous diphtheria do not generally require antitoxin but are treated with antibiotics.
Antibiotics are also recommended in the treatment of diphtheria. The prompt administration of either erythromycin or penicillin can eradicate the bacteria and halt the production of further diphtheria toxin. The administration of antibiotics also assists in preventing the transmission of diphtheria to others. Antibiotics are also recommended for asymptomatic carriers of Corynebacterium diphtheriae and to those who come in close contact with individuals suspected or known to have diphtheria.
Supportive measures may also be necessary in the treatment of diphtheria. Airway obstruction from the pseudomembrane may necessitate the insertion of a breathing tube to prevent suffocation and death. Cardiac monitoring is necessary to manage potential cardiac rhythm or conduction disturbances. Consultation with cardiologists, neurologists, pulmonologists, and infectious disease specialists may also be necessary.
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