Health

Tuberculosis rates in England fall by third in six years

TB Mycobacterium tuberculosis Image copyright Science Photo Library

New figures show rates of tuberculosis (TB) in England have declined by a third in six years, and are currently at their lowest level in 35 years.

The data from Public Health England shows a 38% fall since 2012, with a 9.3% decline in cases in 2017 alone.

Improved diagnosis, treatment and awareness are being credited for the fall.

But England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe with just under 5,200 affected in 2017.

And TB is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

The data has been released to coincide with World TB Day on 24 March.

The World Health Organization's campaign Light up the World for TB will see buildings and landmarks across the world lit up in red across the weekend 23-25 March.

It's hoped it will highlight the continued focus that is required to meet the ultimate ambition of making England TB-free.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The BCG vaccine offers protection against TB

Dr Sarah Anderson, head of the National TB Office at Public Health England, said: "People often think that TB is a Victorian disease that is no longer a problem in England, but in fact it still affects over 5,000 people a year and there is still a lot to do until the target to eliminate TB is met.

"We urge everyone to join the fight to confine TB to history. World TB Day is an opportunity for people everywhere to be informed about TB, educate others and urge governments to take action. This global movement will make a powerful statement and show solidarity for people who have been affected by TB."

Tuberculosis facts

  • TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person
  • It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body, including the tummy (abdomen) glands, bones and nervous system
  • The most common symptoms of TB are a persistent cough for more than three weeks, unexplained weight loss, fever and night sweats.
  • TB is difficult to catch and you need to spend many hours in close contact with a person with infectious TB to be at risk of infection
  • TB can be fatal if left untreated - but can be cured if it's treated with the right antibiotics over a course of six months
  • The BCG vaccine offers protection against TB, and is recommended for babies, children and adults under the age of 35 who are at risk of catching TB
  • At-risk groups include: children living in areas with high rates of TB and people with close family members from countries with high TB rates

The most recent data on infection rates show parts of London still have higher rates of TB than some developing countries, such as Iraq, Libya and even Yemen.

London is known as the TB capital of Western Europe and has seen initiatives such as a mobile clinic taking to the capital's streets to test vulnerable people, such as the homeless.

Free testing and treatment of latent TB is available in England for people from areas where TB is common.

TB breakthrough

Last year researchers in Oxford and Birmingham reported they had made a world-first breakthrough in the diagnosis of tuberculosis.

They managed to isolate different strains of the disease using a process called genome sequencing.

It means patients who may have waited months to get the right drugs can now be diagnosed in only a few days - so they have a greater chance of recovery.

While figures have gone down over the last six years in England, another issue in the battle to eradicate TB is drug resistance.

A recent study found one in five global cases of the disease is now resistant to at least one major treatment drug.

Related Topics

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites