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Diphtheria in Europe: current problems and new challenges.

Diphtheria, caused by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is an ancient disease with high incidence and mortality that has always been characterized by epidemic waves of occurrence. Whilst towards the beginning of the 1980s, many European countries were progressing towards the elimination of diphtheria, an epidemic re-emergence of diphtheria in the Russian Federation and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union demonstrated a continuous threat of the disease into the 1990s. At present, the epidemic is under control and only sporadic cases are observed in Europe. However, the circulation of toxigenic strains is still observed in all parts of the world, posing a constant threat to the population with low levels of seroprotection. More recently, Corynebacterium ulcerans has been increasingly isolated as emerging zoonotic agent of diphtheria from companion animals such as cats or dogs, indicating the enduring threat of this thought-to-be controlled disease.

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