Healthy living

TB cases at highest level for 30 years

TB cases at highest level for 30 years Drug resistance doubles in a decade

The number of people infected with tuberculosis in the UK is at a thirty year high, according to the latest figures.

Last year 9,040 people became infected with the potentially life threatening bacterium, the highest figure since 1979, when 9,266 cases were recorded in England and Wales alone.

In addition, the number of new drug resistant TB cases has nearly doubled in the past decade, from 206 cases in 2000, to 389 cases in the last year, the UK Health Protection Agency said in its annual TB report.

Although some patients catch the drug resistant disease from people, drug resistant bacterial strains can also arise when patients fail to complete their course of antibiotics.

Treatment for non-drug resistant TB usually consists of a six month course of multiple antibiotics.

However, if the disease becomes drug resistant, the treatment is more complicated and prolonged. For multi-drug resistant TB, where the bacterium is resistant to a number of antibiotics, treatment may take 18 months or longer.

In 2008, 334 people in England and Wales died as a result of TB, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Those most at risk of the respiratory infection include people who have come from countries where TB is more common, drug users and homeless people who don't have ready access to health care.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the HPA, said: “We are concerned to see cases of TB at their highest levels since the 1970s. TB is a preventable and treatable condition but, if left untreated, can be life threatening.

“Although drug resistant and multi-drug resistant cases of infection represent only a small proportion of TB cases overall, each resistant case requires careful and often prolonged treatment and care.

"Drug resistance is increasingly an issue in a wide range of infections. Patients must ensure they take their full prescription as instructed and, most importantly, they must finish any course of treatment that has been prescribed.

“TB is sadly not a disease of the past and the figures today serve as an important reality check.”

This article was published on Thu 4 November 2010

Image © Ovidiu Iordachi -

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