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New TB cases in UK reach 30 year high

Data from the UK's Health Protection Agency shows that new diagnoses of TB in 2009 reached 9,040 – the highest level for nearly 30 years

Data published by the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) shows that new diagnoses of tuberculosis (TB) in 2009 reached 9,040 – the highest level for nearly 30 years. The agency also reported that new cases of drug resistant TB had almost doubled in the last decade from 206 cases in 2000 to 389 cases in 2009.

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.

"The key to reducing levels of TB is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Efforts to improve early diagnosis and control the spread of this infection must remain a priority and be increased in areas where prevalence is high."

The HPA's annual TB report, from which the data was extracted, also showed that the number of cases of TB that were multi-drug resistant had almost doubled from 28 in 2000 to 58 cases in 2009. However, the proportion of multi-drug resistant cases of TB remained low at 1.2 per cent.

In 2009, almost 7 per cent of new cases of TB were resistant to isoniazid –one of the key drugs used in the first line treatment of the disease. 

Non-drug resistant TB is usually treated with a six month course of antibiotics. Drug resistant TB requires more complex treatment over a prolonged period while multi-drug resistant TB can require 18 months or more of treatment.

Dr Paul Cosford, executive director of Health Protection Services at the HPA said: "The HPA takes the increases we have seen in TB infection very seriously and is working closely with public health and NHS colleagues nationally and locally through Agency's Health Protection Units to tackle, and hopefully eventually eliminate, this disease.

"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."

4th November 2010

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