Molecular epidemiology of the 1984-1986 outbreak of diphtheria in Sweden

N Engl J Med. 1988 Jan 7;318(1):12-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198801073180103.


Despite mass vaccination against diphtheria, many people have antibody titers below the protective level of 0.01 IU per milliliter. A recent outbreak of diphtheria in Sweden caused 17 clinical cases of diphtheria in the city of Göteborg; three of the patients died. A satellite outbreak occurred in Stockholm after a few months' delay. Using a new genetic probe, we analyzed 36 strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae isolated in Sweden and Denmark during the period 1976 to 1986. Although the 36 strains can be classified in 17 different groups of C. diphtheriae (several of them containing toxigenic strains), all the clinical and fatal cases of diphtheria were caused by isolates from the same group, strongly suggesting that the outbreak in Sweden was caused by a single strain that possibly had a virulence factor separate from toxigenicity. This strain may have been imported into Sweden from Denmark, since it was isolated for the first time in Copenhagen in 1983, before the outbreak in Sweden.

MeSH terms

  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / genetics
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / isolation & purification*
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / pathogenicity
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • Diphtheria / epidemiology*
  • Diphtheria / microbiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Sweden
  • Virulence


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Bacterial