Healthy living

Drug resistant TB on the rise

Drug resistant TB on the rise across Europe London is TB capital of Europe

Cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) are on the rise across Europe, experts have warned.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that multi-drug resistant TB is spreading at an "alarming rate" across Europe, with around 81,000 new cases being diagnosed every year.

Hardest hit are countries outside western Europe with limited medical and diagnostic facilities, such as Russia, the Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Tuberculosis is a serious bacterial infection, which usually infects the lungs. The disease is spread by inhaling droplets of saliva from an infected person coughing or sneezing.

TB is a global health problem. In 2009 1.7 million people died of the disease and 9.4 new cases were diagnosed.

In the same year, around 9,000 cases of TB were reported in the UK, the majority occurring in cities.

London now has the highest TB rate of any capital city in western Europe, with around 3500 new cases annually.

The number of people with TB in London has risen by nearly a third in the past decade, and the number with the multi-drug resistant form of the disease has doubled between 2005 and 2009.

The WHO has drawn up an action plan to combat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in 53 European countries, which aims to diagnose greater numbers of patients with multi-drug resistant TB, successfully treat at least 75 per cent of patients with the multi-drug resistant form of the disease, reduce the proportion of drug resistant cases among previously treated patients, improve access to testing and treatments and increase public awareness of the disease.

The WHO estimates that the action plan could save as many as 120,000 lives by 2015.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: "TB is an old disease that never went away, and now it is evolving with a vengeance. We have to find new weapons to fight it. We know what works – the action plan is built on the evidence."

This article was published on Wed 14 September 2011

Image © Ovidiu Iordachi -

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