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from French diphthérie, coined 1857 by physician Pierre Bretonneau (1778-1862) from Greek diphthera "prepared hide, leather," of unknown origin; the disease so called for the tough membrane that forms in the throat. Bretonneau's earlier name for it was diphthérite, anglicized as diphtheritis (1826). Formerly known in England as the Boulogne sore throat, because it spread from France.
diphtheria diph·the·ri·a (dĭf-thēr'ē-ə, dĭp-)
An acute infectious disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and characterized by the production of a systemic toxin and the formation of a false membrane on the lining of the mucous membrane of the throat and other respiratory passages, causing difficulty in breathing, high fever, and weakness. The toxin is particularly harmful to the tissues of the heart and central nervous system.
An infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae and characterized by fever, swollen glands, and the formation of a membrane in the throat that prevents breathing. Infants are routinely vaccinated against diphtheria, which was once a common cause of death in children.
An acute disease, and a contagious disease, caused by bacteria that invade mucous membranes in the body, especially those found in the throat. The bacteria produce toxic substances that can spread throughout the body.
Note: In developed countries, diphtheria has been virtually wiped out through an active program of infant immunization.