Diphtheria: Advice for travellers

Level 1 - Practise health precautions (more details)

Original publication date: November 28, 2023

Updated: April 8, 2024

Current Situation

Several countries in West Africa are currently reporting a higher than expected number of diphtheria cases. Diphtheria occurs worldwide and is still endemic in many countries. 
Travellers who are not fully vaccinated may be at risk of getting diphtheria when visiting a country where the disease is still widespread.
There is also currently a global shortage of diphtheria antitoxin treatment stockpiles. This means that if you get diphtheria while travelling abroad, your access to treatment may be limited. 

About Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a very contagious bacterial disease. It can spread quickly from person to person through coughing and sneezing, through contact with skin sores, and less commonly, through contact with contaminated objects. Diphtheria can be very serious and even deadly, especially for infants and very young children. 
The symptoms of diphtheria include:
  • sore throat
  • swollen neck
  • fever and chills
  • difficulty breathing
Diphtheria can be prevented with a vaccine. In Canada, the diphtheria vaccine is part of the  routine childhood immunization schedule. The diphtheria vaccine is usually given as part of a combined vaccine with other diseases. 
Diphtheria can be treated with antibiotics as well as with a diphtheria antitoxin.
Learn more:
Diphtheria - Canada.ca
Recommended immunization schedules: Canadian Immunization Guide - Canada.ca


Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel to get personalized health advice and recommendations.
  • Travellers should make sure their routine vaccinations, including diphtheria, are up-to-date regardless of their travel destination. Discuss your vaccination status with your health care provider.
Learn more:
Diphtheria toxoid: Canadian Immunization Guide - Canada.ca
Buy travel insurance before you leave Canada. 
  • Your Canadian health insurance may not pay your medical bills while you're outside Canada
  • Your provincial or territorial health plan may cover none, or only a small part, of the costs of your medical care abroad. It will never pay your bills up front
  • Foreign hospitals can be very expensive and may require immediate cash payment
  • In some countries hospitals and clinics will not treat you if you do not have enough insurance or money to pay your bills
  • The Government of Canada will not pay your medical bills
Learn more:
Travel insurance - Travel.gc.ca
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. 
  • This helps reduce the spread of infectious diseases by removing or killing germs on your hands.
  • If your hands are visibly dirty, you should wash them with soap and water instead of using hand sanitizer. 
  • It's a good idea to always keep hand sanitizer with you when you travel.
Learn more:
Hand washing and staying healthy - Canada.ca
When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with the bend of your arm, if you are not wearing a mask, to reduce the spread of germs.
  • If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands immediately afterwards.

See a health care provider if you develop symptoms of diphtheria when travelling or after you return to Canada:
  • Alert the health care professional about your symptoms before your appointment, so they can take proper precautions
  • Tell the health care professional which countries you have visited
  • Avoid close contact with other people to reduce the chance of infecting others.
If you notice symptoms of diphtheria during your return flight to Canada, tell the flight attendant before you land or the border services officer as you enter the country. You may be referred to a Quarantine Officer for a health assessment and further direction.
Learn more:
If you become sick or injured while travelling outside Canada or after your return - Travel.gc.ca

Registration of Canadians Abroad

Sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to stay connected with the Government of Canada in case of an emergency abroad or an emergency at home.
Learn more:
Registration of Canadians Abroad

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