Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
J Forensic Leg Med. 2013 Feb;20(2):65-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2012.04.006. Epub 2012 May 24.

Diphtheria - 'The strangling angel' of children.

Author information

School of Medical Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Level 3 Medical School North Building, Frome Rd, Adelaide, 5005 South Australia, Australia.


Diphtheria, an acute infectious condition caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, was once a major killer of children. Although the mortality rates dropped dramatically in the mid-twentieth century, due to a combination of improved standards of living and immunization programs, outbreaks are still occurring. Two children, aged four and five years respectively, are reported to demonstrate characteristic features of lethal cases. Death in case 1 was due to an extensive upper airway pseudomembrane causing acute respiratory failure. The diagnosis of diphtheria was only made at postmortem. Death in case 2 was due to acute cardiac failure with heart block complicating diphtheria. Other mechanisms in fatal cases involve disseminated intravascular coagulation, renal and endocrine failure. Declining levels of immunity among adults has resulted in a change in the epidemiological pattern of the disease with an older age of victims in recent outbreaks. As a result of population shifts and failure to immunize children it is likely that forensic pathologists may see more cases of diphtheria in the future. Due to the rarity of cases in Western communities and atypical presentations, the diagnosis may only be established at autopsy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Support Center