I did a little research and I found out how diphtheria affects its victims... (This is my first article on the site, please give your comments!)
Diphtheria is an acute infection of the throat and nose which may prove fatal if untreated, or if treatment is delayed.
Causes: Diphtheria is caused by a bacillus, the corynebacterium diphtheriae. It produces powerful toxins which attack the mucous membranes of the throat and nose and, if no anti-toxin is administered, the heart, nervous system and kidneys. Diphtheria is usually contracted by contact with and infected person who spreads the bacteria when coughing or sneezing.
Symptoms: After a brief incubaion period ranging from two days to a week, the patient develops a mild sore throat and fever, feels weak and generally ill. A soft membrane forms over the affected tissues. The throat becomes painful , especially in swallowing and breathing, and the lymph glands at the side of the neck swell considerably, giving rise to a condition known as 'bull neck'.
Danger: The growth of the membrane may impair breathing and a tracheotomy, an operation which opens the airways, may have to be performed on a patient to allow him to breathe. If the infection is not treated swiftly, it will begin to spread. The jaw becomes paralyzed, followed by the eyes, the pharynx and finally the limbs and trunk. A massive attack can kill within three days, but a slighter attack may take up to three weeks to cause heart failure.
Treatment: Hospital treatment in isolation is essential. Treatment consists of antibiotics to combat the bacterial infection in the throat, and te anti-toxins to counteract the diphtheria toxins. Total bedrest is required, followed by a convalescent period and a very gradual reture to normal routine. If diphtheria is treated in time, the patient should recover fully.
A note: I did not add pictures as they are quite graphic. I got the info from a book by Doctor Trevor Weston MD, MRCGP.