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Diphtheria antitoxin is made from equine (horse) blood. It is not a vaccine. It’s used as a treatment for diphtheria disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria. Diphtheria antitoxin stops the disease from getting worse.
Diphtheria is a nose and throat infection caused by bacteria. It can cause trouble breathing or swallowing, heart failure, and paralysis. It can also cause skin infections.
Up to 1 out of 10 people who get diphtheria will die. In children under 5 years and adults older than 40 years, 2 to 4 out of 10 people who get diphtheria can die.
People who travel to countries where there is risk of diphtheria and have not had all their diphtheria vaccines are at highest risk.
Diphtheria is spread by coughing, sneezing, or having close contact with someone who is infected.
You may get diphtheria antitoxin if your doctor decides you need treatment for diphtheria.
The dose you need depends on how sick you are.
Diphtheria antitoxin works very well to stop diphtheria disease from getting worse. You’ll likely also need antibiotics.
You can only get diphtheria antitoxin in a hospital. Your doctor needs to place a special order for it.
There can be side effects from diphtheria antitoxin. Side effects may include:
At least 1 out of 100 people who got diphtheria antitoxin reported 1 or more of these side effects. In some cases, it is unknown if diphtheria antitoxin caused these side effects.
Some people may have a rare but serious allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis). If anaphylaxis happens, you’ll get medicine in the hospital to treat the symptoms.
If you need diphtheria antitoxin, you’ll have to stay in the hospital. Your doctor will watch you closely and help you manage any side effects.
Anyone who needs diphtheria antitoxin can have it. But talk to your doctor if you’ve had:
For long-term protection, you need to be immunized with a vaccine that protects against diphtheria:
Diphtheria antitoxin can interfere with vaccines that protect for diphtheria. You need to wait 3 to 4 weeks after having diphtheria antitoxin before you can have a vaccine that protects against diphtheria.
Current as of: June 1, 2023
Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.