Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis are serious infections that are caused by bacteria. Often, they are discussed together because doctors often vaccinate against them together. The infections themselves are different, however. Diphtheria affects the throat and the nose, tetanus affects the nervous system and the muscles, and pertussis is marked by a hacking cough. Though the vaccines used for these infections are often combined into one vaccination, these infections are caused by three different types of bacteria.
Many people wonder what the connection is between tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis since the vaccines for these infections are commonly combined into one vaccination. Besides the combined vaccination, however, these infections are really only connected by the fact that they are potentially serious and caused by bacteria. They are not similar diseases, and they aren’t caused by the same bacteria.
Diphtheria is a condition that causes a thick material to form at the back of the patient’s throat as well as a sore throat, hoarseness, swollen glands, nasal discharge, fever and chills, and weakness. This disease is caused by a bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae and can be transmitted in the droplets of an infected person's sneeze or cough. An individual may also contract it after handling items that contain the secretions of an infected person, such as used tissues. Less often, shared household items may help the disease to spread.
Like diphtheria, tetanus is also caused by bacteria, though the type that causes this condition is called Clostridium tetani. This condition does not affect the respiratory system as diphtheria does. Instead, it acts on the nervous system and causes muscular symptoms, such as muscle spasms and stiffness of the jaw, neck, and abdominal muscles. This infection may also cause difficulty swallowing, fever, increased heart rate, and higher-than-normal blood pressure. In some cases, a person with this disease may also have body spasms that are stimulated by commonplace occurrences such as breezes and loud sounds.
Pertussis, like diphtheria and tetanus, is caused by bacteria and is spread by the droplets an infected person emits when he coughs or sneezes. This infection is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is marked by a hacking cough and a whooping sound when a person inhales after coughing. Other symptoms include congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and a fever. As the disease progresses, coughing may cause a person to vomit, and some people may turn red or blue in the face during coughing spells.