Last updated Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, or more precisely by toxins produced by this bacterium. It mainly affects the throat or the nose. It is spread through the droplets in coughs and sneezes and can range from a mild illness to one which is life-threatening. The risk of contracting diphtheria in the UK is very low. Statistics published by the Health Protection Agency show a sharp reduction in reported cases following the start of the vaccination campaign in 1941. [1] Such data can be questioned based on under-reporting or refusal by doctors to diagnose a disease for which a patient has been vaccinated. This is less likely with mortality figures. But these too show a clear reduction in cases after the introduction of the vaccine. How much the vaccine contributed to the decline of deaths from diphtheria, readers can decide for themselves from the following graph. There are now virtually no cases of diphtheria in the UK year on year. Is this due to ongoing vaccinations? Coverage levels are the same to other infectious diseases against which we vaccinate and these have not disappeared entirely. What about other countries? Many point to the 1990s epidemic in countries that had recently broken away from the former Soviet Union and claims that this was due to fewer children receiving the vaccines. In fact the disease mainly affected vaccinated adults. This epidemic was studied with great interest at the time particularly because of the high level of vaccination among the population. [2] The true cause was a collapse in living standards (poverty, reduced medical and social care, increased drug consumption) which also caused outbreaks of other diseases, such as hepatitis, measles, typhus and cholera. The threat of diphtheria returning to the UK, therefore, seems more likely…

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