Rates of tuberculosis (TB) in Britain are among the highest
in Western Europe and London is struggling to shed its status as the "TB
capital" of the region, according to data released on Wednesday.
If trends of infection continue, within two years Britain is
likely to have more new cases of TB each year than the United States, according
a report from the government's health agency, Public Health England (PHE).
More than 8 750 TB cases were reported in Britain in 2012,
or around 14 per 100 000 population, slightly fewer than in 2011 but still
enough to put it among the worst-hit countries in the region.
"TB remains a critical public health problem,
particularly in parts of London and among people from vulnerable communities,
said Paul Cosford, PHE's director for health protection.
He said controlling the contagious and often drug-resistant
lung disease was now one of the key priorities for PHE, which is developing a
stronger national approach to be implemented in a few months' time. "We are
determined to see a sustained reduction in TB and will work tirelessly to
support local partners in those areas where the burden is greatest," he
said in a statement.
Often misconstrued as a disease of the past or one
restricted only to marginalised communities, TB in fact inflicts annual direct
health costs of more than R6 942.88 million on European governments, and costs
another R6 927.90 billion in productivity losses.
High TB incidence
The bacterial infection usually affects the lungs, and spreads
when someone who has TB coughs or sneezes.
According to the PHE report, London had the main burden of
TB infections in Britain in 2012 with 3 426 cases, almost 40% of the national
total."Despite considerable efforts to improve prevention, treatment and
control, TB incidence in the UK remains high compared to most other Western
European countries," it said.
Almost three-quarters of cases were in migrants from places
such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where TB is common. Although the
proportion of TB cases resistant to one of several drugs was low at under 2%,
drug-resistant TB "remains a problem", the report added."TB is a
preventable and treatable condition, but, if left untreated, can be
life-threatening," said Lucy Thomas, PHE's head of TB surveillance.
She said good access to TB screening and diagnostic services
for new immigrants was essential to stem the spread of the disease.