• Wednesday, February 28, 2024


England witnessing surge in tuberculosis cases, says UKHSA report

Shot of a young doctor analysing an x ray of a patient’s chest at clinic.

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

The most recent TB annual report from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), published on Thursday (15), indicates a rise in tuberculosis (TB) cases in England.

While the figures for 2022 were stable, with 4,380 reported incidents nearly mirroring the 2021 count of 4,411, provisional data for 2023 paints a more alarming picture.

There has been an increase of 10.7% in TB cases in 2023, rising to 4,850 from the previous year’s 4,380, a press release by UKHSA said.

This uptick suggests a resurgence of TB infections, surpassing levels seen before the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite England’s classification as a country with low TB incidence, this recent escalation complicates the nation’s efforts to align with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) aim to eliminate TB by 2035.

In response, UKHSA, in collaboration with various partners, is delving into the causes behind this surge to formulate effective countermeasures.

The data also reveals a growing trend of TB cases among individuals born outside the UK, but the 2023 increase has been observed in both non-UK born and UK born individuals, spreading across England.

Metropolitan areas like London, the North West, and the West Midlands have seen the sharpest increases, with notable rises in the South West and North East as well, where TB incidence is low.

Tuberculosis is notably linked to socio-economic factors and is prevalent in large cities. High-risk groups who experience the highest number of cases include people from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Africa (Eritrea, Nigeria) and Eastern Europe (Romania).

In the UK, individuals born domestically who face homelessness, substance dependence, or have interacted with the criminal justice system are at a higher risk of contracting TB.

Additionally, the incidence of TB is significantly higher among UK-born individuals belonging to ethnic minorities, as opposed to those from white backgrounds.

Emphasising the importance of collective efforts to combat TB, Dr Esther Robinson, the head of UKHSA’s TB Unit said, “We need collective action to tackle TB and we are working with partners across the health system to understand how we can best refocus efforts to stamp out this preventable and treatable infection. Not every persistent cough, along with a fever, is caused by flu or Covid-19. A cough that usually has mucus and lasts longer than 3 weeks can be caused by a range of other issues, including TB. Please speak to your GP if you think you could be at risk.”

As part of its continued fight against TB, UKHSA is collaborating with NHSE and other stakeholders to refine the TB action plan, focusing on enhancing prevention, detection, and expanding the TB workforce’s capacity.

A bacterial infection, TB primarily targets the lungs and becomes contagious at this stage.

Key symptoms to watch for include persistent coughing beyond three weeks, fevers, night sweats, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Although treatable with antibiotics, TB poses significant risks if left unaddressed.

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