A case of respiratory toxigenic diphtheria: contact tracing results and considerations following a 30-year disease-free interval, Catalonia, Spain, 2015

Euro Surveill. 2018 Mar;23(13):17-00183. doi: 10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2018.23.13.17-00183.


In May 2015, following a 30-year diphtheria-free interval in Catalonia, an unvaccinated 6-year-old child was diagnosed with diphtheria caused by toxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae. After a difficult search for equine-derived diphtheria antitoxin (DAT), the child received the DAT 4 days later but died at the end of June. Two hundred and seventeen contacts were identified in relation to the index case, and their vaccination statuses were analysed, updated and completed. Of these, 140 contacts underwent physical examination and throat swabs were taken from them for analysis. Results were positive for toxigenic C. diphtheriae in 10 contacts; nine were asymptomatic vaccinated children who had been in contact with the index case and one was a parent of one of the nine children. Active surveillance of the 217 contacts was initiated by healthcare workers from hospitals and primary healthcare centres, together with public health epidemiological support. Lack of availability of DAT was an issue in our case. Such lack could be circumvented by the implementation of an international fast-track procedure to obtain it in a timely manner. Maintaining primary vaccination coverage for children and increasing booster-dose immunisation against diphtheria in the adult population is of key importance.

Keywords: Diphtheria; contact tracing; control measures; diphtheria antitoxin; outbreak; prevention; public health.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Bacterial / analysis
  • Carrier State
  • Child
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / genetics
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / immunology
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae / isolation & purification*
  • Diphtheria / diagnosis*
  • Diphtheria / immunology
  • Diphtheria / microbiology
  • Diphtheria Antitoxin / administration & dosage*
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Public Health Surveillance / methods*
  • Sentinel Surveillance


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Diphtheria Antitoxin