Diphtheria is a throat infection which can lead to breathing difficulties. The illness is very rare in countries with an immunisation programme.


Diphtheria bacteria enter through and attack the skin lining the nose, mouth and throat.

They cause a greyish membrane (like a skin) to form in the throat. This leads to difficulty in swallowing and breathing.

Diphtheria complications

  • The bacteria produces a toxin (chemical) which affects the body and can lead to nerve paralysis and heart failure.
  • 5–10% of people with the disease die.


Childhood Immunisation booklet.
Childhood Immunisation
Available from HealthEd.


If you or your child has diphtheria, the symptoms will be:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • difficulty breathing
  • bad breath
  • sleepiness
  • swollen glands
  • white patches on the tonsils
  • bark-like cough.


It’s important to protect babies from diphtheria by getting them immunised on time. They’re not protected until they’ve had all 3 doses.

All babies in New Zealand can be immunised against diphtheria as part of their free childhood immunisations at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months old.

Booster doses are given to children when they’re 4 and 11 years old.


This disease is covered on the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule. The vaccines used are INFANRIX®- hexa, INFANRIX-IPV™ and Boostrix™.

Continuing protection

To ensure protection continues, a diphtheria booster is offered at 45 and 65 years of age.

Making a decision about immunisation

Risks associated with diphtheria

  • The bacterial toxin can lead to nerve paralysis and heart failure.
  • Between 5–10 infected people in 100 die.

Risks associated with the vaccine

  • Anaphylaxis occurs extremely rarely after diphtheria-containing vaccine is given.

Immunisation is your choice. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or practice nurse or call the Immunisation Advisory Centre free helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).

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