Fewer TB cases recorded but numbers still too high

A small decrease in UK Tuberculosis (TB) cases in 2007, compared with 2006, was reported by the Health Protection Agency today when provisional UK figures were released for World TB Day, but experts warn the number is still too high.

8,496 UK cases were reported in 2007 which is down 0.7% from the previous year when the comparable figure was 8,555. The main burden of TB is still in the nation's capital, with 3,333 cases reported in London in 2007, 39% of the UK total.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar , a TB Expert at the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said:

“This year's provisional figures show a slight decrease in the number of cases of TB and any decrease is welcome. We should not assume, however, that the overall trend is now downwards as provisional data must always be viewed with caution.

“The key to halting the health burden which TB causes in the UK is the prompt diagnosis and treatment of infectious cases. Improving the wider understanding of the disease and its symptoms will help achieve this. Various myths still exist about TB and how it is spread. The Agency is committed to raising awareness of the disease in a bid to see fewer cases occurring and old-fashioned attitudes diminished.”

Prof Peter Borriello, Director of the Agency's Centre for Infections, said:

“TB is preventable and treatable – health professionals and the general public alike should be mindful of these key, simple facts about TB.

  • TB is curable. It is usually treated with a six-month course of antibiotics, which MUST be completed in order to discourage recurrence of disease or drug resistance.
  • Symptoms include: fever and night sweats, persistent cough, weight loss and blood in sputum.
  • TB is not usually caught by simply sitting next to an infected person. The infection requires prolonged and close contact in order to spread from person to person.
  • Only about a quarter of TB cases in the UK have the ‘open' form of the disease which is potentially infectious for others. Most cases present little or no risk to others.
  • TB affects children and adults differently. It is very uncommon to catch TB from a child with the disease.
  • At TB Chest clinics where TB is treated, there is no prescription charge – the treatment is free for the patient.

“We know the burden of TB exists mainly in high risk groups including hard-to-reach communities in the UK . We are working with the Department of Health on outreach programmes to tackle directly the areas and groups with the highest numbers.

”We should consign this major global killer infection to history – this needs many global players.”

World TB Day, which is observed on 24 March each year and organised by the World Health Organisation aims to build public awareness of the disease and commemorates the day in 1882 when the cause of tuberculosis, TB bacillus, was first discovered.

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