An acute infectious disease caused by a bacterium (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) and characterized by weakness, high fever, the formation in the air passages of a tough, membranelike obstruction to breathing, and the production of a potent neurotoxin. Not nearly as common now because of mass immunization in the United States.
Diphtheria is spread by intimate contact with someone with the disease. Some people having no symptoms may be carriers of this disease and spread it to others. Many cases of acute sore throats and acute tonsillitis are mistaken for diphtheria and vice versa. Children 2-6 yrs. of age are most commonly affected. The doctor should be notified immediately, as this is a life-threatening disease.
Chills, fever, sore throat, headache, difficulty breathing, foul breath, and sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are primary symptoms. There may be associated headache, weakness, listlessness, and rapid heart. Children usually complain first of being tired and sleepy. The tonsils appear inflamed, dark red, unevenly swollen and covered with white patches that look like parchment. The glands of the neck swell in most cases. The tenacious membrane in the throat on the tonsils spreads very rapidly unless checked. The membrane may appear yellow or greenish, but it does not always look the same. In severe cases, it is gangrenous. In a very short time, if nothing is done, this membrane will spread to cover the back of the throat and the entire cavity of the mouth. When it spreads down into the air passages it causes difficulty in breathing, and the patient has a frightened look. If there are no white patches or exudation, the disease is probably not diphtheria.
The most important points to remember in the treatment of diphtheria, after the doctor has seen the patient, are isolation of the patient, strict bed rest, and the early use of diphtheria antitoxin. Keep the patient in a well-ventilated room, but kept warm until the most serious stage of the disease is over.
If no professional medical help is available immediately, steep one tsp. powdered myrrh with a pinch of cayenne in a pint of boiling water for 1/2 hr. Gargle and swab the throat thoroughly with this solution until the throat is clean. This will kill the poisons that are there. A hot fomentation to the throat, followed by a cold compress, will give great relief.
Any problem with constipation should be handled immediately with herb enemas or laxatives (bayberry or raspberry leaf tea).
If an emetic is needed, use bayberry bark and lobelia should be used, because these two herbs clean the mucous membranes and is stimulating, to that the poisonous exudation can be thrown off (healing and antiseptic). After vomiting once, repeat until stomach and throat are entirely clean.
Sleepiness is not a good sign. Give a bayberry bark enema and emetic and 3 cups (half that for children) of prickly ash bark tea before you allow the patient to sleep.
If there is wheezing or choking during sleep, wake the patient up and give a dose of red raspberry or bayberry tea. Also give fresh or unsweetened pineapple juice. Use only fruit juices until patient is well cleaned out, the exudation has stopped, and the throat is clean.
When the patient begins to recuperate, a diet of baked apples, potassium broth, soybean milk, fresh fruit and vegetables properly cooked.