Diphtheria, a highly infectious disease, is transmitted by airborne bacteria which produce a toxin that causes inflammation of the heart and nervous system. If an individual is not immunized and the disease goes untreated for even a short amount of time, the consequences may be fatal.
Although diphtheria had been practically eliminated in Western societies in the 1950s and 60s, it has again reached epidemic proportions in contemporary Russia. A 1993 report shows that between 1990 and 1992 the number of victims has risen from 1,000 to 4,000, with the number of new cases doubling between July and December. Diphtheria is also on the rise in the Ukraine, which in the first 10 months of 1992, reported 1,344 incidents. The former republics of the former Soviet Union account for more than 90% of all the diphtheria cases in Europe.