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Warning Over Surge in Tuberculosis as Progress in Eliminating Disease ‘Stalls’

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Health chiefs have warned of a surge in Tuberculosis cases as progress on battling the disease stalls.

Cases of TB increased by seven per cent in the first half of 2023, with 2,408 alerts recorded compared to 2,251 during the same period in 2022, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

The cases are most prevalent in people living in large cities in England and poorer areas, the agency said.

England remains a low-incidence country for TB. However, the public health body has said progress towards eliminating the disease has “stalled.”

Head of the TB unit at UKHSA, Dr Esther Robinson, said: “As we head into winter, it is important to remember that not every persistent cough, along with a fever, is caused by flu or Covid. A cough that usually has mucus and lasts longer than 3 weeks can be caused by a range of other issues, including TB.”

She said TB develops slowly and may take several weeks, months or even years before an infected person becomes unwell.

“Contact your GP if you think you could be at risk so you can get tested and treated”, Dr Robinson said.

Commenting on the UKHSA warning, David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “TB is a preventable and treatable disease that disproportionately affects vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. Certain groups, such as migrants and those with social risk factors such as homelessness or a history of imprisonment are more affected.

"Council staff have essential frontline roles to play in controlling TB. This includes identifying symptoms, advising health and social care professionals on appropriate infection control as well as responding to TB incidents and outbreaks in settings such as schools.”

The public health authority said in an alert on Thursday: “TB is not just a problem for other countries – it is impacting increasing numbers of people at home.

“TB notification rates in England remain highest in people who are originally from parts of the world where TB is more common and those in large urban areas in England which are associated with higher levels of deprivation.”

TB: The symptoms and how it spreads

What are the symptoms?

It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body, including lymph nodes (glands), bones and the brain causing meningitis, according to the UKHSA, which lists symptoms including:

  • a persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody
  • breathlessness that gradually gets worse
  • lack of appetite and weight loss
  • a high temperature
  • night sweats
  • extreme tiredness or fatigue

How does TB spread and who is most at risk?

TB is spread through inhaling small droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. While nearly anyone can get TB, the most at risk include those who live in, come from, or have spent time in a country or area with high levels of TB, according to the UKHSA.

Other particularly at-risk groups include: those in close contact with an infected person; people who have a condition or are receiving treatments that weaken their immune system; the very young and elderly; and those in poor health due to factors such as heavy substance use or homelessness.

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Schedule17 May 2024