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An acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which infects mucous membranes of the throat, causing formation of a thick layer called the false membrane that can obstruct breathing, and producing a potent toxin that enters the bloodstream and causes systemic effects that include damage to the heart and nervous system.
[New Latin diphthēria, from French diphthérie, from Greek diphtherā, piece of hide, leather; see letter.]
diph′the·rit′ic (-thə-rĭt′ĭk), diph·ther′ic (-thĕr′ĭk), diph·the′ri·al adj.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.