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Epidemiol Infect. 2000 Aug;125(1):113-25.

The sero-epidemiology of diphtheria in Western Europe. ESEN Project. European Sero-Epidemiology Network.

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PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London, UK.

Erratum in

  • Epidemiol Infect 2001 Apr;126(2):331.


Seven countries in Western Europe collected large, representative serum banks across the entire age range and tested them for diphtheria anti-toxin (sample size ranged from 2991 to 7715). Although a variety of assays were used, the results were all standardized to those of a reference laboratory and expressed in international units. The standardization process, and the availability of similar, large data sets allowed comparative analyses to be performed in which a high degree of confidence could be ascribed to observed epidemiological differences. The results showed that there were large differences in the proportion of adults with insufficient levels of protection amongst different countries. For instance, roughly 35% of 50- to 60-year-olds were found to be seronegative (titre < or = 0.01 IU/ml) in Finland compared with 70-75% in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the proportion of seronegative adults would be expected to increase in some countries, notably Italy and the western part of Germany. In those countries with vaccination of military recruits there was a marked sex-related difference in the proportion of seropositive individuals. All countries have high levels of infant vaccine coverage (> 90%) but the accelerated schedule in the United Kingdom appears to result in lower anti-toxin titres than elsewhere. In Sweden, booster doses are not offered until 10 years of age which results in large numbers of children with inadequate levels of protection. Although the United Kingdom and Sweden both have higher proportions of seronegative children than elsewhere the likelihood of a resurgence of diphtheria in these countries seems remote.

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