The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

TB cases still on the rise across most of the UK

Experts call for greater vigilance to curb rise in infection rates

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Cases of tuberculosis across the UK have risen by an average of 5.5%, show provisional figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The total number of cases reported rose from 8,679 in 2008 to 9,153 in 2009.

London carries by far the greatest burden of tuberculosis (TB), with 3,476 cases in 2009 – well over a third of the UK total. However, it has seen only a small rise from 2008 to 2009, and a decline in cases since 2005.

The figures, released in the HPA’s annual TB newsletter, ahead of World TB Day on 24th March, also show that the West Midlands region reported the second highest number of cases, accounting for 11.3% of cases. A rise in cases was seen in eight out of nine English regions and in Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland has consistently had the lowest number of TB cases, and has also seen the greatest fall in cases, of 45% since 2005. In contrast, Wales has seen the biggest rise from 2008 to 2009, of 32%; and south-east England has experienced the greatest rise since 2005, of more than 50%.

Nearly three-quarters of cases occur in people born outside the UK. Close, prolonged contact with someone with active lung TB is needed to be at risk of being infected.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, a TB expert at the HPA’s Centre for Infections, said: “The increase we have seen this year is the biggest rise in the number of cases since 2005.

“This increase shows that we must remain vigilant in our fight against TB. This is an entirely preventable and curable infection, but it can be fatal if prompt diagnosis and treatment are not given.

“People need to be aware of the main symptoms of TB, which include a fever and night sweats; a persistent cough; weight loss; and blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit). If you experience two or three of these symptoms for a period of more than three weeks, you should go to your GP.”

Professor Maria Zambon, director of the HPA’s Centre for Infections, said: “Although some progress is being made, the consistent increase (sic) in the number of cases of TB in the UK means our efforts to control the disease must be strengthened. Both health professionals and the general public alike must remain vigilant if we are to eradicate this major global killer infection.”

In May 2010 the HPA will launch the national strain typing service, which aims to improve understanding of how TB is spread in the community and help to identify at-risk groups. This will help to inform how public health resources are allocated and, in turn, prevent outbreaks and improve diagnosis and treatment of cases.

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470