The symptoms of diphtheria are much like a common sore throat accompanied by a severe cold. The sore throat is accompanied with more fever than an ordinary cold, and there is an indescribable sickish feeling, which is easily recognized by those who have once experienced it. Later, white patches appear in the throat, on the tonsils, the back of the throat, and on the arches of the palate. The throat is generally but little swollen on the outside, but in all cases when there is a suspicion of diphtheria, it is not safe to delay sending for a physician, as the disease does its work quickly, and must be dealt with in time or it is fatal. There are really three varieties of the disease. The first is characterized by fever, severe pains in back and limbs, and very great prostration. There may be no soreness of the throat, but small white specks will be noticed on the tonsils. In the second, large patches of false membrane appear on the tonsils and back of the throat; but the glands of the neck do not become swollen. In the third, which is the true malignant diphtheria, there is swelling of the glands of the neck and under jaw, profuse and offensive discharges from the mouth and throat, and more or less discharge from the nostrils. In the first two varieties, the disease generally yields to simple treatment, hut the disease is too subtle and dangerous to be trifled with, and a physician should be summoned. One of the best remedies for domestic use in the early stages of the disease, is, probably, chlorate of patash, put into a tumbler of water until no more will dissolve, and used as a gargle. If swallowed it is harmless. It is cheap - five to ten cents worth being sufficient for almost any case, and it may be kept in the house for emergencies. It is also an excellent remedy, used as above described, for ordinary sore throat. In the case of children too young to use the gargle, make a swab on the end of a firm round stick, by binding on a small piece of linen or cotton cloth; use only once and burn it, i. e., the rag. Take the handle of a teaspoon and press the tongue down so as to see plainly the condition of the throat; swab quickly and draw out. Do not worry the child by poking the stick down its throat a half dozen times, make a sure thing the first time, for if you touch the affected parts, well; better do it again in two hours. Dip swab in a preparation (which may also be used as a gargle) of alcohol, diluted with water, but as strong as the patient can bear. The alcohol acts quickly upon the poison of the disease, and is a remedy easily obtained and kept at hand. When attacked with diphtheria, the patient should be kept in bed with sufficient clothing over the body for comfort, and no more. The room should be kept well supplied with pure air, and nourishment should he given in the shape of well-prepared beef-tea every two hours. Cut fresh beef into pieces, put into a bottle without water, and boil in a pot of water. To an adult give a great spoonful of the beef-tea thus made, every two hours, and less in proportion to age. If this does not agree with the patient, or there is any difficuly in the patient's swallowing it, substitute the white of an egg; beat till smooth, mix with half a tumbler of water, and give a table-spoon at a time. This is very nourishing, and is often taken more readily than beef-tea. It is particularly important to nourish the patient with proper supplies of food in the early stages of the disease, as there is danger that the supply of vitalized blood will not be sufficient to meet the demand made by the disease.
The homeopathic treatment is to begin at once with aconite and belladonna, alternately every hour. If after four hours there is no improvement, and the characteristic prostration, and the patches on the tonsils are increasing, stop the aconite, and supply its place with the proto-iodide of mercurius. Let these two remedies be continued until there is a marked change for better or worse. If for the former, let the intervals be increased to one and a half or two hours; for the latter, and there is approaching unconsciousness, with frequent arousing to cough up or hawk up the detached fragments of the deposits, that brings up tough, ropy, yellowish mucus, give kali bi-chromicum alone every hour. When the patient becomes really better, stop and give no more medicine while the improvement goes on satisfactorily.
One reason why it is important to summon a physician as soon as the symptoms of the disease appear, is that many cases which appear slight, at first, are really most serious and fatal, while a common sore throat excites the greatest alarm, the judgment of the physician being necessary to decide the amount of danger in the case.
In some cases dry sulphur, applied to the tonsils and throat, gives relief, and in violent cases the fumes of sulphur, burned in the close room, have been used with good effect. An outward application* to the throat, of lard as hot as it can be borne, is an aid to the other remedies mentioned.
To avoid all causes of diphtheria, keep the house free from dirt and filth of every kind from cellar to garret. See that no sewers give off gases, no drains are left filthy, and no out-house uncleaned, and bear in mind that it is not enough to destroy bad smells by disinfectants - the cause of the smells must be removed.
A lady who had the courage and coolness to treat herself, through a severe case of diphtheria, when no physician was at hand, describes her case thus: "I first noticed spores (the characteristic white patches which appear on the throat) on my right tonsil at 9 a. m. By noon they had spread over the entire arch of the palate, and the back of the throat. Several of these were loosened before night, but during the night they had spread up the nose and down the bronchial tube. My palate and tonsils were so swollen that I could scarcely speak, and with difficulty swallow. The gland on the right side of neck was much swollen, and ached, causing a dull pain in the ear. The breath had that offensive odor peculiar to the disease, and I had an intense, burning fever. 1 began my remedies as soon as I discovered the spores. I took a clay pipe, filled the bowl one-eighth full of dry sulphur, powdered very fine, and shook it down into the stem. 1 then placed the end of the stern in my throat, and held it there in front of the spores, while an attendant blew into the bowl, and repeated this until the whole diseased surface of the throat was covered with dry sulphur, taking care to hold my breath while the sulphur was being blown in. In half an hour this was repeated. I then made a strong gargle of chlorate of potash, and half an hour after using the last sulphur, gargled my throat thoroughly. I then alternated the sulphur with the gargle of chlorate of potash every hour. At night I mixed a tea-spoon of sulphur with water, and swallowed it slowly, and continued taking it in this way three times a day. Blowing sulphur into the throat, and gargling with chlorate of potash was kept up regularly for four days, until every spore had disappeared, ex-, actly as at first, except making the intervals longer as the disease abated. Whenever I felt them getting down the bronchial tube, I drew breath gently when the sulphur was being blown into my throat. It almost choked me to death, but I persevered. For my nose I snuffed up sulphur, just as old ladies take snuff, until satisfied that every part was reached. When the spores came off I watched for new ones, and did not relax my attention for one moment for five days. When better, I made a gargle of honey, sage and water, to heal and remove the swelling in the throat. I afterward treated my husband successfully for the same disease, in the same way."
Diphtheria is a disease which springs from the growth of a real fungus on some of the mucous surfaces of the system, more generally of the throat. It may spread by contact of the mucous surfaces of a diseased with those of a healthy person, as in kissing, and is, to a limited degree, epidemic.
From the local parts affected it spreads to the whole body, affecting the muscular and nervous systems, vitiating the lymph and nutrient fluids, and producing paralysis.
As soon as the bacterium or fungus appears on the white patches on the throat, it should no more be neglected than a bleeding gash or a broken arm. and there is almost as little need of a fatal termination of one incident as or the other. /