Sciensano & Diphtheria

Last updated on 8-3-2023 by Charlien Hupko

In the past diphtheria has been 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.

What does the Sciensano do? 

Sciensano performs epidemiological surveillance of diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The institute centralises and analyses data provided by various partners (notifiable disease reporting system, National Reference Centres, sentinel laboratories networks), and also coordinates certain studies or surveillance networks. Accordingly, it can observe the “trends” (figures) for diseases such as diphtheria.

A notifiable disease

Diphtheria is a notifiable disease in the 3 regions (Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders). 

Any suspected cases of diphtheria of the upper respiratory system or the skin must be reported to the health inspector physicians as quickly as possible.

Initially, only toxicogenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae infections had to be declared.

Since 2008 toxigenic Corynebacterium ulcerans infections must also be declared.

Cases related to non-toxigenic strains (tox -) do not have to be reported. 

The National Reference Centre for toxigenic Corynebacteria 

The bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, ulcerans or pseudotuberculosis isolated by microbiology laboratories must be sent urgently to the National Reference Center for toxigenic corynebacteria to confirm the diagnosis, search for the toxin gene and identify the type.

The National Reference Centre for toxigenic corynebacteria (UZ Brussels) carries out microbiological surveillance of these bacteria.

The data collected in Belgium on possible cases of toxigenic-strain diphtheria are reported in the European Diphtheria Surveillance Network (EDSN)


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