Definition of diphtheria in English:



  • An acute, highly contagious bacterial disease causing inflammation of the mucous membranes, formation of a false membrane in the throat that 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 because of immunization.

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


In the past, diphtheria was correctly pronounced with an f sound representing the two letters ph (as in telephone, phantom, and other ph words derived from Greek). In recent years, the pronunciation has shifted and today the more common pronunciation, no longer incorrect in standard English, is with a p sound. Nevertheless, the f sound remains the primary pronunciation


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