In the past diphtheria was a major cause of death among children. Thanks to widespread vaccination in Belgium since 1959, diphtheria has almost disappeared from our country. But the bacteria are still in circulation and vaccination is the only way to prevent diphtheria.

Biological diagnosis of diphtheria 

Diphtheria is first suspected based on the symptoms of pseudomembranous pharyngitis or cutaneous lesions accompanied by pseudomembranes.

As soon as a case of diphtheria is suspected, the doctor will take a swab as quickly as possible: nose, throat, pseudomembrane or skin-lesion swabs.

The sample is then sent urgently to a microbiology laboratory and to the National Reference Center for toxigenic Corynebacteria (Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel) to grow the bacteria, search for the toxin gene and identify the type.

Morover, all the Corynebacterium diphtheriae, ulcerans or pseudotuberculosis bacteria isolated by the microbiology laboratories must be sent urgently to the National Reference Centre for toxigenic Corynebacteria (Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel).



Sciensano performs epidemiological surveillance of diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Sciensano centralises and analyses data provided by various partners and also coordinates certain studies or surveillance networks. Accordingly, it can observe the “trends” (figures) for diseases such as diphtheria.

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