Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Diphtheria is an extremely rare disease in Australia.

Diphtheria is an extremely rare disease in Australia.
beginning of content


2-minute read

Diphtheria is an infectious bacterial disease that usually affects the nose and throat. It can be life-threatening but is extremely rare in Australia. Diphtheria can be prevented by vaccinations.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a very contagious disease usually caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It can affect the nose, throat and tonsils, and sometimes the skin.

Diphtheria can be life-threatening, but due to immunisations in Australia it has virtually disappeared.

Who needs vaccination?

Anyone who has not been fully immunised and comes into contact with diphtheria during its infectious period can catch the disease.

Diphtheria vaccines are part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule. They are free.

The diphtheria vaccine is given at 6-8 weeks, 4 and 6 months of age along with tetanus and whooping cough vaccines, with boosters at 18 months, age 4 and age 10-15. They can also be given to older people.

While everybody should be vaccinated, it is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and older people.

To find out more about diphtheria immunisation, talk to your doctor.

How is diphtheria spread?

Diphtheria is spread when a person breathes in droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.

Diphtheria can also be spread by direct contact with an infected person’s wounds or any materials they have soiled.

Diphtheria symptoms

Diphtheria symptoms usually appear 2 to 5 days after infection.

It can give you a sore throat, breathing difficulties, weakness and fever. it can also gives you ulcers on the skin, or make wounds slow to heal.

Diphtheria can also cause nerve paralysis and heart failure.

Diphtheria treatment

Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics, and in severe cases with antitoxin. Good hygiene stops it spreading.

Last reviewed: February 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Diphtheria in Australia

Diphtheria is a highly contagious, and potentially life-threatening, bacterial disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheria or Corynebacterium ulcerans.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website


Diphtheria is a serious disease that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. It is caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria.

Read more on WA Health website

Diphtheria -

Diphtheria is an infectious disease, which usually affects the upper respiratory tract. Onset of respiratory diphtheria is gradual, with symptoms such as mild fever, sore throat, fatigue and hoarse voice.

Read more on myDr website

Diphtheria - including symptoms, treatment and prevention :: SA Health

Diphtheria is an infection of the throat and nose caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

Read more on SA Health website

Diphtheria | Australian Government Department of Health

Diphtheria is a serious disease that can affect people of all ages. Vaccination is the best protection against diphtheria.

Read more on Department of Health website

Diphtheria fact sheet - Fact sheets

Diphtheria is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that usually affects the nose and throat. It is very uncommon in Australia but can reemerge when immunisation rates are low.

Read more on NSW Health website

Diptheria causes, treatment and vaccine information | myVMC

Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable respiratory infection that is rare in developed countries. It can be fatal and infected people should be isolated.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Year 8 immunisation program

Immunisations are offered free to all year 8 students – diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, human papillomavirus.

Read more on WA Health website

Travel vaccinations -

Travel immunisations are important in pre-trip planning to certain countries. Vaccinations that travellers may need include tetanus and diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, and typhoid vaccinations.

Read more on myDr website

Vaccinations for older people -

Three common but potentially dangerous diseases that older people should be vaccinated against are influenza, pneumococcal disease and shingles (herpes zoster); diphtheria and tetanus boosters may also be needed.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo