The diphtheria vaccine is given as a 5-in-1 jab and guards against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio and infections caused by the Hib bacteria. The vaccine is known as DTaP/IPV/Hib. The 5-in-1 jab is injected into a baby’s thigh and it is safe to give the vaccine with other vaccines.

When is the vaccine given?

The 5-in-jab is given in three doses at the age of 2, 3 and 4 months. Three doses are given to ensure that the child builds up a strong immunity against the diseases. A booster jab is also recommended for pre-school children at around the age of 3-4. This jab provides defence against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. A booster is also recommended for teenagers aged between 13 and 18, which shields against diphtheria, polio and tetanus.

If you are planning to travel to countries where diphtheria is common, you may be advised to have another booster injection and you can seek travel advice from the Foreign Office, the World Health Organisation or your GP. You may need a booster if you are taking a trip to the following areas:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nepal.
  • Bangladesh.
  • Papua New Guinea.
  • Laos.
  • India.
  • Vietnam.
  • Philippines.
  • Brazil.
  • Iraq.
  • Afghanistan.

Is the vaccine safe?

All vaccines used in the NHS vaccination programme have been tried, tested and passed rigorous testing. Since vaccinations were introduced the amount of cases of certain diseases and illnesses has dropped dramatically, with some diseases now being virtually non-existent in the UK. Vaccinations are one of the most effective medical inventions ever and, although they often cause mild side-effects, the advantages prevail over the risks.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection which is highly contagious and can be lethal. Diphtheria mainly affects the throat and nose but it can also cause symptoms to develop on the skin. Thanks to the vaccination programme diphtheria is extremely rare in the UK. Diphtheria spreads very quickly and easily, when infected droplets of saliva are released and inhaled by another person. This can happen when somebody coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces or objects.

Symptoms of diphtheria

Diphtheria causes the following symptoms:

  • Fever (high temperature).
  • Problems with breathing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Pain when swallowing.
  • Headaches.
  • Coughing.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Feeling very tired.

Treatment for diphtheria

If you have diphtheria you will be admitted to hospital and placed in isolation to prevent the infection from spreading to other people. Diphtheria is treated using antibiotics and antitoxins. In most cases, a 14-day course of antibiotics is prescribed but if tests show that bacteria are still present, a longer course may be needed. After treatment you will be given a diphtheria vaccination to reduce the risk of developing the infection again.

Preventing diphtheria

The most effective means of preventing diphtheria is to make sure you and your family are vaccinated against the disease. If, for some reason, you were not vaccinated during childhood, see your GP and arrange to have the injections. If you miss an appointment with your child, do not worry as you can rearrange the appointment and you will not need to start the course of injections again.

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