Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that mainly affects the nose and throat. It can also affect the skin. It is very contagious and can become serious very quickly. Most cases occur in people who have never had a diphtheria vaccine, or who did not complete the initial course.


The main symptoms include:

  • A thick grey-white coating at the back of your throat
  • High temperature (fever) of 38C or above
  • Feeling sick
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands in your neck
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
1. How do you catch it?

Diphtheria is mostly spread by coughs and sneezes, but there are other ways it can be spread, including by eating unpasteurised dairy products and by sharing belongings with someone who has the infection, such as bedding or clothing. Travellers are at risk when mixing closely with the local population in most developing countries.

2. Prevention?

To prevent diphtheria, you must ensure your diphtheria vaccine is up to date. If you are travelling to a risk area, you may require a booster diphtheria jab to be safe.

3. Vaccination options

A course of the vaccine combining diphtheria with Tetanus and polio is offered routinely in the UK from the age of 8 weeks. Depending on where you are travelling AND when you last had the combined vaccine, you may require a booster dose before you travel.

Number of doses? 1 dose.
When to do the course? Ideally, two weeks before your trip, although even a day before your trip is acceptable as form of protection.
Booster doses? The vaccine provides protection for 10 years. Booster dose is recommended every 10 years.
Age restrictions? Vaccine is available for anyone 6 years and above.

4. At Risk Destinations

Diphtheria is endemic in many countries in Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Since 2016, respiratory diphtheria outbreaks have occurred in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Venezuela, Haiti, South Africa, and Yemen.

For a free risk assessment and expert advice, contact us today and speak with one of our dedicated healthcare professionals.