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.

Diphtheria in Belgium

Thanks to widespread vaccination in Belgium since 1959, the number of cases has decreased considerably and the risk of a diphtheria epidemic is currently minimal. 

  • 1943: 16 157 cases and 982 deaths
  • 1980 – 2012: less than 15 cases and 1 death (a person of Belgian nationality in Moscow) 
  • 2013: 1 case of respiratory diphtheria due to a toxigenic strain of C. ulcerans
  • 2014: 0 case 
  • 2015: 3 cases of cutaneous diphtheria, 2 related to a toxigenic strain of C. ulcerans and 1 due to a toxigenic strain of C. diphtheriae  
  • 2016: 1 fatal case of respiratory diphtheria in a 3-year old unvaccinated child 

View the latest information about diphtheria in Belgium on the website of Epidemiology of infectious diseases service (“Diseases A-Z” and “Professionals” only in French and Dutch) or on Epistat (reserved access).

Diphtheria in Europe

Diphtheria has declined significantly in Europe:

  • 1943: 1 million cases and 50 000 deaths
  • 2014: 38 cases.

However, Russia and the former Soviet Union countries, experienced significant outbreaks in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sporadic imported infections by C. diphtheria and C. ulcerans and autochthonous cases due to zoonotic transmission are still observed.

In 2015, several cases of cutaneous diphtheria were reported in Europe among asylum seekers (ECDC).

Diphtheria worldwide

Since the years 1980 — 1990, the number of diphtheri a cases has fallen significantly.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) diphtheria remains a major public health problem in some areas.

  • 2013:  4 680 cases, of which 85% in South East Asia
  • 2014:  7 321 cases, of which 98.6% in South East Asia


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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