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Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is normally spread when a person who is infected with the bacteria coughs or sneezes, and another person nearby breathes in the tiny respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria. Although less common, you can also get diphtheria by touching objects that are contaminated with the bacteria, such as toys. 
Once in the body, the bacteria produces a toxin that usually causes respiratory-type symptoms, such as a sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph glands. One of the most characteristic symptoms is a thick, grey-colored membrane that covers the throat, making it difficult to breathe. If not properly treated, the toxin can spread through the body and damage the heart and nerves. 
Before widespread vaccination, diphtheria used to be a major cause of illness and death in children in the United States. Thanks to the vaccine, the illness is extremely rare in the United States now.


Pertussis is caused by the bacteria known as Bordetella pertussis. It is a very contagious illness that leads to uncontrollable coughing. The coughing fits from pertussis can be so severe that it is difficult to breathe. When someone with pertussis takes a deep breath after a coughing fit, they make a "whooping" sound. This is why pertussis is commonly referred to as "whooping cough."
Like diphtheria, you can catch pertussis by coming into contact with an infected person's respiratory secretions. This usually happens when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you. You can also become infected by touching objects that are contaminated with the bacteria, and then touching your nose or mouth. 
Also, like diphtheria, whooping cough was once a major cause of childhood illness and death. Widespread immunization efforts led to a dramatic drop in the number of cases of the illness in the United States.
While the pertussis vaccine is quite effective, it isn't 100 percent effective. This means you can still catch the illness even if you have been vaccinated against it. Most of the time, symptoms are less severe in someone with pertussis who was previously vaccinated. However, it is still a good idea to see a healthcare provider if you or your child develops a cold with a severe cough.
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