Doctors worried about dramatic rise of TB in the UK

Experts have expressed concern over the steady rise in Tuberculosis (TB) in the last seven years in Britain.

They say the disease which was at one point well on the way to being eradicated is becoming a threat again in the UK.

Recently published figures by the Health Protection Agency show that between 2004 and 2005, there was a 10.8% rise in TB cases, the biggest annual rise in cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1999.

Although London had the highest number of cases with 3,479 (43%), the greatest number of new cases were in the north-west with 588 in 2004 to 757 cases in 2005, the east Midlands 443 in 2004 to 556 in 2005, and the East of England 395 in 2004 to 483 in 2005.

The largest increase was amongst patients born outside the UK, from 4,696 reported in 2004 to 5,310 in 2005.

However, as only 22% of these patients arrived in the UK during the past two years it suggests that the increase is not a result of a large number of individuals arriving recently with TB but rather a combination of the disease developing in individuals who may have been infected for some time and new infections acquired in the UK, or as a result of travel to other countries where TB is common.

Experts say the figures demonstrate that action to control TB must be stepped up with national initiatives from the Department of Health throughout the country.

TB is both preventable and treatable, but the rapid rise in cases, together with the emergence worldwide of drug-resistant strains such as XDR-TB, is a cause for anxiety among health professionals.

Peter Borriello, director of the centre for infections at the HPA says the magnitude of the increase over just one year is a concern.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a germ usually spread in the air and as a rule is caught when somebody with the infection coughs or sneezes; it commonly affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.

The symptoms include fever and night sweats, a persistent cough, losing weight and coughing or spitting blood.

Infection with the TB germ may not always develop into TB disease and only some people with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people.

Close and prolonged contact is needed to be infected, and the disease develops slowly in the body; it is usually several months before symptoms appear.

The Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic group made up the highest proportion of cases reported in 2005, followed by Black African, and White.

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