Healthy living

Tuberculosis on the rise in UK

Zone default image Cases at their highest since the late 1980s

The number of new cases of tuberculosis (TB) continues to rise, according to a report released today by the Health Protection Agency.

Last year 8,655 people developed TB, a rise of 2.9% from 2007 when 8,411 cases were reported. The burden of this infection remains in the UK’s major urban areas, with London reporting 39% of cases.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, Head of Tuberculosis at the agency’s Centre for Infections, said: “Cases of TB remain at their highest since the late 1980s, and efforts to control and accelerate the downward trend must be kept up. We must remain vigilant and keep TB high on the agenda.

“The key to reducing levels of TB is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. TB is a preventable and treatable condition but if left untreated it can be life threatening.

“The increase in TB cases this year means we cannot be confident that rates are stabilising. In particular, we have observed a 4% increase in the rate of TB among UK born individuals with numbers rising from 1,843 in 2007 to 1,926 in 2008."

TB is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs. It is spread from person to person when one who has TB of the lungs coughs or sneezes.

TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. Only some people with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people and even then, you need close and prolonged contact with them to be at risk of being infected.

Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB:

  • Fever and night sweats
  • Persistent cough
  • Losing weight
  • Blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time

Dr Abubakar said: “The burden of TB exists mainly in high risk groups including hard-to-reach communities in the UK. We continue to work with the Department of Health on outreach programmes to tackle directly the areas and groups with the highest numbers.”

This article was published on Wed 2 December 2009

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