Diphtheria in the former Soviet Union: reemergence of a pandemic disease

Emerg Infect Dis. Oct-Dec 1998;4(4):539-50. doi: 10.3201/eid0404.980404.


The massive reemergence of diphtheria in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union marked the first large-scale diphtheria epidemic in industrialized countries in 3 decades. Factors contributing to the epidemic included a large population of susceptible adults; decreased childhood immunization, which compromised what had been a well-established childhood vaccination program; suboptimal socioeconomic conditions; and high population movement. The role of a change in the predominant circulating strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae in this epidemic remains uncertain. Massive, well-coordinated international assistance and unprecedented efforts to vaccinate adults were needed to control the epidemic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diphtheria / epidemiology*
  • Diphtheria / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • USSR / epidemiology