Definition of diphtheria in English:



  • [mass noun] An acute and highly contagious bacterial disease causing inflammation of the mucous membranes, formation of a false membrane in the throat which hinders breathing and swallowing, and potentially fatal heart and nerve damage by a bacterial toxin in the blood. It is now rare in developed countries owing to immunization.

    • ‘Possible reactions to immunisation against diphtheria and tetanus and pertussis include fever, vomiting, and listlessness.’
    • ‘That's because children were vulnerable to infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles.’
    • ‘Among vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, only measles was reported, but no diphtheria, tetanus or whooping cough.’
    • ‘A study in Benin failed to show that vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio was associated with reduced mortality from other conditions.’
    • ‘The serum was also used in vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and whooping cough until as late as 1993.’
    • ‘A balanced diet can lower the risk of infectious diseases and this is apparent in the reduction of diseases such as cholera, diphtheria and polio in England.’
    • ‘Epidemics such as influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and typhoid took a deadly toll.’
    • ‘That was when whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria and smallpox were routine.’
    • ‘It provides immunity to polio, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and Hib.’
    • ‘Typhus cases shot through the roof, as did diphtheria, relapsing fever, dysentery, cholera and so on.’
    • ‘Vaccinations are free and compulsory for tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio, yellow fever, and measles, mumps, and rubella.’
    • ‘Indeed, no case of tetanus, diphtheria or whooping cough was reported over the two years under study.’
    • ‘First or second degree block, however, can occur with rheumatic carditis, diphtheria, digoxin overdose, and congenital heart defects.’
    • ‘For nearly 50 years Australian babies have been routinely vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.’
    • ‘Pasteur went on to discover vaccinations for chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, anthrax and rabies.’
    • ‘Consider this, some of the worst diseases of the 20th century - tuberculosis, diphtheria and pneumonia were not cured with the help of animal testing.’
    • ‘There was no report on diphtheria, rabies, tetanus or whooping cough during the study period.’
    • ‘Some bacteria, such as those that cause tetanus and diphtheria, produce powerful toxins.’
    • ‘Parents often wonder why it takes a year or more and multiple shots to fully immunize their children against diseases like diphtheria and pertussis.’
    • ‘Many children succumb to diarrhea, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and malnutrition.’


In the past diphtheria was pronounced with an f sound representing the two letters ph (as in telephone, sulphur, and other ph words derived from Greek). In recent years the pronunciation has shifted and today the most common pronunciation, no longer incorrect in standard English, is with a p sound. A very similar shift has taken place with the word diphthong, which is now also widely pronounced with a p rather than an f sound


Mid 19th century: modern Latin, from French diphthérie (earlier diphthérite), from Greek diphthera skin, hide.