DTP is an abbreviation of Diphtheria, Tetatnus and Polio. There is a single vaccine that protects against all three of these diseases, the so-called DTP vaccine.


Diphtheria is caused by bacteria. The incubation time (the time between being exposed to the bacteria and the manifestation of the first symptoms) averages between about two to five days. If you contract diphtheria the symptoms can vary greatly, from none at all to quite acute symptoms, like a sore throat, fever, and inflamed lymph glands. The toxins released by the bacteria can cause serious complications. These include paralysis and inflammation of the heart muscle, which can be fatal.


Tetanus is caused by the toxins released by the clostridium tetani bacteria. They spread through the body via the blood stream and attack the central nervous system. The disease is characterised by violent muscle spasms, which can be fatal. The tetanus bacteria can survive for a long time in soil, faeces and domestic refuse, and can enter the human body through open wounds or animal bites. The incubation time is usually between 3 and 21 days, but it can also take longer.


Poliomyelitis, usually known as ‘polio’ or ‘infantile paralysis’ is a virus infection that is caused by one of the three types of polio viruses. There will not usually be any symptoms of having been infected with polio, but in the few cases (less than 1%) there can be serious complications (paralysis). Contrary to its name (infantile paralysis), polio can be contracted by (unvaccinated) children and adults.

Where can you catch Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio?

Although diphtheria occurs all over the world, it is primarily encountered in countries with inadequate vaccination programmes. It is currently posing a significant problem in parts of the former Soviet Union, for example. Tetanus also occurs all over the world and is not restricted to certain regions or continents. Thanks to successful vaccination programmes, polio has been eradicated in the western world, with the exception of isolated outbreaks amongst population groups that have not been vaccinated. Polio is currently endemic to the Indian sub-continent and in western and central Africa.


In the Netherlands and most other countries all children are vaccinated against DTP. In addition to this a periodic booster vaccination (every 10 years) is sufficient to keep an individual protected. However, in a number of developing countries the vaccination coverage is poor and minor and major outbreaks of these diseases still occur.