Diphtheria outbreaks in Yemen and Venezuela

24 Nov 2017

An outbreak of diphtheria is currently being experienced in Yemen and Venezuela. One hundred and twenty diphtheria cases have been reported in Yemen in the last two months, while Venezuela has seen more than 500 probable cases in 2017, as detailed in today’s Communicable Disease Threat Report.

Vaccination against diphtheria is essential and prompt testing of suspected cases in travellers coming from affected areas is recommended.

Low vaccination coverage, immunity gaps in adults and poor sanitation, due to the disruption of national vaccination programmes caused by unrest in the two countries, are factors that favour the transmission of the disease and are causing the current outbreaks.

The risk of diphtheria spreading to Europe is currently considered low. However, people travelling to the affected areas should consult their healthcare provider regarding their vaccination status. The risk of imported cases should also be considered with relation to the possible movement of people to Europe as a consequence of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Travellers coming from the affected countries who show symptoms such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, serosanguinous nasal discharge or skin lesions should seek medical advice, and diphtheria testing should be considered by healthcare providers. Prompt treatment and investigation of close contacts should be carried out in case testing is positive.

Safe and effective vaccines are available against diphtheria, and universal vaccination is the single most effective preventive control measure for this disease: diphtheria vaccination in children, adolescents and adults should therefore follow the national immunisation schedules. A gap analysis on securing diphtheria diagnostic capacity and diphtheria antitoxin availability in the EU/EEA published by ECDC, highlights the need to address gaps in diphtheria diagnostic capacity and availability of diphtheria antitoxin for some EU/EEA countries.

More information

Communicable disease threats report, 19-25 November 2017, week 47

Monitoring -

This issue of the ECDC Communicable Disease Threats Report (CDTR) covers the period 19-25 November 2017 and includes updates on West Nile virus, Plague, monkeypox, influenza, diphtheria, yellow fever and Marburg virus disease.