The 22-year-old Brisbane woman died in hospital after contracting the bacterial throat infection from a friend who had returned from overseas. It's believed she wasn't immunised.
Queensland Health said it last confirmed a case of diphtheria in the state in 1993, but AMA vice president Steve Hambleton said he had never heard of a case in Australia in 30 years of working as a health professional.
"In the early 1900s it was the most common cause of death from an infectious disease," Dr Hambleton said, with rates as high as 400 cases per 100,000 people.
But in 1932 vaccination against the infection began and by the late 1950s rates had plummeted and were "virtually zero".
Now, almost 90 per cent of Australians have been vaccinated against the infection.
Children are given the jab as part of their childhood vaccines and adults get a top up with their tetanus.
"Any cases we get in Australia or the United States or the United Kingdom usually are imported from overseas," Dr Hambleton said.
"It's quite infectious, if someone catches it they can spread it for up to four weeks.
"It's a very serious infection that's got quite a high death rate if you catch it. "It's a terrible disease."
Diphtheria is spread through coughing and sneezing, and can lead to difficultly swallowing, breathing and suffocation.
Queensland Health said authorities had given preventative antibiotics to people the Brisbane woman had been in contact with.
They said people travelling overseas to Third World countries where diphtheria is common should ensure their vaccinations are up to date.
|Diphtheria cases reported to the World Health Organization between 1997 and 2006|