Diphtheria

When should I immunize my child to protect against diphtheria?

Your child is recommended to receive the immunizations that will protect him or her against diphtheria at the following ages:

Dose 1 - DTaP-IPV-Hib

2 months

Dose 2 - DTaP-IPV-Hib

4 months

Dose 3 - DTaP-IPV-Hib

6 months

Dose 4 - DTaP-IPV-Hib

18 months

Dose 5 - dTap-IPV

4-6 years

Dose 6 - dTap

Grade 9

See full schedule.

Diphtheria quick facts:

Diphtheria is infection of the nose and throat, caused by bacteria.

Diphtheria is easily spread by sneezing or coughing and by direct contact with someone who is infected.

Diphtheria can cause very severe breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis and even death.

About one in 10 people who get diphtheria die.

In fact, before immunization, diphtheria was the most common cause of death in Canadian children aged one to five.

The good news: Diphtheria can be prevented through immunization.

What can happen to my child if he or she gets diphtheria?

Diphtheria is particularly serious for infants and children. Diphtheria causes a thick coating on the back of the throat that can cause breathing problems for your child. Diphtheria can also damage your child's heart and nervous system and cause paralysis and even death. Babies are at particular risk of complications from diphtheria.

About the immunization:

Diphtheria can be prevented through immunization.

Commonly used vaccines that protect your child against diphtheria are DTaP-IPV-Hib, dTap-IPV and dTap vaccines. When your child gets DTaP-IPV-Hib, dTap-IPV and dTap vaccines, your child’s immune system will be prompted to build antibodies that protect – or “arm” – your child against diphtheria. These same vaccines will also arm your child to fight off tetanus, pertussis, polio and Hib.

Safety

Your child cannot get diphtheria, or any other diseases, from the DTaP-IPV-Hib, dTap-IPV and dTap vaccines.

These vaccines are safe, and provide your child with protection against diseases that are not safe.

The risk that diphtheria poses to your child’s health is far greater than any risk related to immunizing your child against diphtheria.

Safety checks before immunization

Your nurse will talk to you about your child’s health history before giving your child any vaccines. This will include questions about any medicines your child is taking, health conditions your child has or is experiencing, as well as any allergies your child may have. Your nurse will guide you on what is safe for your child, based on your child’s health history.

When your nurse talks to you about your child’s health history, it is important that you inform your nurse if your child:

  • is sick or has a fever greater than 38.5 C (101.3 F)
  • has allergies to any part of the vaccine
  • is allergic to any foods, drugs, bee stings, etc.
  • has a weakened immune system (immune compromised)
  • has had an allergic reaction (such as anaphylaxis) or other severe or unusual reaction to this or other vaccines in the past

Your nurse will guide you on what is safe for your child, based on your child’s health history.      

Learn more about general vaccine safety here.

What might my child experience after immunization?

Reactions to DTaP-IPV-Hib, dTap-IPV or dTap vaccines are usually mild, go away within a few days, and may include:

  • Redness, swelling and/or discomfort where the needle was given
  • Feeling tired, crying, irritable, or having body aches
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Rash

Unexpected or unusual reactions can happen after being immunized. Call Health Link at 811 to report any unusual reactions.

How can I manage my child’s symptoms after immunization?

No matter your child’s age, it is normal for him or her to experience some common, mild and temporary symptoms after immunization. 

Here are a few tips to manage these mild symptoms:

  • Fever. If you need medicine for fever or pain, check with your pharmacist or doctor. Follow the instructions on the medicine package carefully. If you are not sure whether your child’s fever is related to the immunization, dial 811 for Health Link or talk to your doctor or pharmacist, before giving your child medicine. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 19 years of age. Aspirin increases the risk of a rare but serious disease called Reye Syndrome.
  • Swelling or redness around injection point. Put a cool moist cloth on the area for about 10 to 20 minutes. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you need medicine to help relieve the discomfort. Follow the instructions on the medicine package carefully.
  • Fretfulness and poor appetite. Sometimes a baby may be fretful, drowsy and refuse to eat for a few hours after immunization. Plan to relax in a quiet environment at home after immunization. Hold and cuddle your child when needed, and remember to keep the temperature at a comfortable level – your child is more likely to be fretful if he or she gets too warm.

Severe allergic reactions after immunization are rare, occurring at an estimated annual rate of only one to ten per one million doses of vaccine administered, and can be treated. Our nurses will ask that you stay with your child, in the immunization clinic, for at least 15 minutes after your child receives his or her immunizations. For the dose that your child receives in school, the nurse will also require your child to stay for at least 15 minutes after his or her immunization. This will allow the nurse to identify and treat any immediate allergic reaction that could occur.

If you are concerned about symptoms your child is experiencing after immunization, dial 811 for Health Link to speak to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If your child is experiencing severe shortness of breath, call 911.