Open Access Research article

Molecular epidemiology of C. diphtheriae strains during different phases of the diphtheria epidemic in Belarus

Valentina Kolodkina1*, Leonid Titov1, Tatyana Sharapa1, Francine Grimont2, Patrick AD Grimont2 and Androulla Efstratiou3

Author Affiliations

1 Belarusian Research Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology, Minsk, Belarus

2 Centre National de Reference pour Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Unite de Biodiversite des Bacteries Pathogenes Emergentes INSERM U 389, Institute Pasteur, Paris, France

3 HPA/WHO Streptococcus and Diphtheria Reference Unit, Respiratory and Systemic Infection Laboratory, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, London, UK

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2006, 6:129  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-129

Published: 15 August 2006



The reemergence of epidemic diphtheria in Belarus in 1990s has provided us with important information on the biology of the disease and the diversity of the causative agent Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Molecular investigations were conducted with the aim to analyze the genetic variability of C diphtheriae during the post-epidemic period.


The biotype and toxigenicity status of 3513 C. diphtheriae strains isolated from all areas in Belarus during a declining period of diphtheria morbidity (1996–2005) was undertaken. Of these, 384 strains were isolated from diphtheria cases, 1968 from tonsillitis patients, 426 from contacts and 735 from healthy carriers. Four hundred and thirty two selected strains were ribotyped.


The C diphtheriae gravis biotype, which was prevalent during 1996–2000, was "replaced" by the mitis biotype during 2001–2005. The distribution of toxigenic C. diphtheriae strains also decreased from 47.1% (1996) to 5.8% (2005). Changes in the distribution of the epidemic ribotypes Sankt-Peterburg and Rossija were also observed. During 2001–2005 the proportion of the Sankt-Peterburg ribotype decreased from 24.3% to 2.3%, in contrast to the Rossija ribotype, that increased from 25.1% to 49.1%. The circulation of other toxigenic ribotypes (Otchakov, Lyon, Bangladesh), which were prevalent during the period of high diphtheria incidence, also decreased. But at the same time, the proportion of non-toxigenic strains with the Cluj and Rossija ribotypes dramatically increased and accounted for 49.3% and 30.1%, respectively.


The decrease in morbidity correlated with the dramatic decrease in the isolation of the gravis biotype and Sankt Peterburg ribotype, and the prevalence of the Rossija ribotype along with other rare ribotypes associated with non-toxigenic strains (Cluj and Rossija, in particular).