Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are You at Risk from the London TB Crisis? MEDICAL NOTES

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are You at Risk from the London TB Crisis? MEDICAL NOTES

Article excerpt

Byline: DR MARK PORTER

AFRICA may be the front line in the global battle against TB with the World Health Organisation declaring an emergency last week, but British doctors have concerns closer to home. The number of new cases of the disease in London has doubled since 1990 with infection rates in the worst-hit boroughs similar to those seen in parts of the developing world.

While there is ongoing debate about what has caused the upsurge in the UK - probable factors include immigration from countries where the disease is endemic, poor housing, and the HIV/Aids epidemic - doctors agree on what needs to be done about it. Most cases of TB respond well to treatment with antibiotics, but experts are worried that the NHS lacks the necessary expertise and resources to deal with the problem effectively.

Londoners are 20 times more likely to contract TB than people living anywhere else in the UK, with at least 50 new people infected every week.

Initiatives like mobile X-ray machines - last seen in London in the 1950s - are a step in the right direction, but the British Thoracic Society estimates that the NHS needs at least 40 more consultants and 100 specialist nurses to do the job properly.

TB (tuberculosis) is caused by a bacterial infection. It can cause problems in almost any part of the body, from the bones to the brain, but most cases affect the lungs.

It is normally spread from person to person by inhaling infected droplets produced by coughing, and someone with untreated TB is likely to infect around 20 other people over a nine-12 month period, each of whom will go on to spread the disease to a similar number over the following year.

Telltale symptoms include a persistent productive cough, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and night sweats. Fortunately, the absolute risk in the UK remains small. If you are fit and well, and have had a BCG injection (look for the scar on your upper left arm), then your chances of contracting TB are tiny.

But the jab doesn't offer 100 per cent protection and if you live in one of the high-risk boroughs (such as Brent, Newham and Hackney), or work with high-risk groups (such as patients known to have TB, the homeless or refugees), or you regularly visit parts of the world where TB is endemic, then you could be at significantly higher risk.

For more information on the battle against TB visit www.tbalert.org

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