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Diphtheria in the United Kingdom, 1986-2008: the increasing role of Corynebacterium ulcerans.

Diphtheria is an uncommon disease in the UK due to an effective immunization programme; consequently when cases do arise, there can be delays in diagnosis and case-fatality rates remain high. We reviewed 102 patients with infections caused by toxigenic corynebacteria (an average of four per year) reported in the UK between 1986 and 2008: 42 Corynebacterium diphtheriae, 59 C. ulcerans and one C. pseudotuberculosis, as well as 23 asymptomatic carriers. Five fatalities were reported, all in unvaccinated patients. The major risk factor for C. diphtheriae infection continued to be travel to an endemic country. C. ulcerans infections became more common than C. diphtheriae infections in the UK; they were associated with contact with companion animals. The occurrence of indigenous severe C. ulcerans infections and imported C. diphtheriae cases highlights the need to maintain UK routine vaccination coverage at the 95% level in the UK, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

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