Diphtheria – France

Since the beginning of 2022, several cases of diphtheria have been reported in 9 regions of metropolitan France as well as in Mayotte and Réunion. Compared to other years, the number of cases of C. diphtheriae is significantly higher than average. In metropolitan France, the majority of cases were reported in migrants and travelers. Thanks to the very high vaccination coverage for many years, the occurrence of serious cases or clustered cases within the general population appears extremely low in metropolitan France and Reunion. In Mayotte, where vaccination coverage is insufficient, the bacterium has been circulating for several years.

Photo: Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Gram stained.

Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Signs and symptoms may vary from mild to severe. They often come on fairly gradually, beginning with a sore throat and fever. In severe cases, a grey or white patch develops in the throat and there is a risk of the airway being blocked. The neck may swell in part due to enlarged lymph nodes. A form of diphtheria which involves the skin, eyes or genitals also exists.

Diphtheria is usually spread between people by direct contact or through the air. Contaminated objects may also spread the disease. Some people carry the bacterium without having symptoms, but can still spread the disease to others.

A diphtheria vaccine is effective for prevention and recommended during childhood.

Diphtheria currently occurs most often in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Indonesia. In areas where it is still common, children are most affected.

The disease is rare in the developed world due to widespread vaccination but can re-emerge if vaccination rates decrease.

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