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Home News centre National Press Releases 2010 Press Releases ›  Cases of tuberculosis continue to increase

Cases of tuberculosis continue to increase

16 March 2010

Health Protection Agency publishes new figures for 2009

Provisional figures released today by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that cases of tuberculosis (TB) in the UK have increased by 5.5%, from 8,679 reported in 2008 to 9,153 in 2009.

The figures, released in the agency's annual TB newsletter ahead of World TB Day on 24th March, show the main burden of this infection is still in London with 3,476 cases reported in 2009, accounting for 38% of the UK total. The West Midlands region reported the second highest number of cases, accounting for 11.3% of cases. A rise in cases was seen in eight out of nine regions. Nearly three-quarters of cases occur in people born outside the UK.

TB is a preventable infection and is spread from person to person when someone coughs or sneezes. Close and prolonged contact with someone with active lung TB is needed to be at risk of being infected.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, a TB expert at the HPA's Centre for Infections, said: "The increase we have seen this year is the biggest rise in the number of cases since 2005.

"This increase shows that we must remain vigilant in our fight against TB. This is an entirely preventable and curable infection, but it can be fatal if prompt diagnosis and treatment are not given.

"People need to be aware of the main symptoms of TB, which include a fever and night sweats; a persistent cough; weight loss; and blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit). If you experience two or three of these symptoms for a period of more than three weeks, you should go to your GP."

Both health professionals and the general public should be aware of the following key, simple facts about TB:

  • TB is curable. It is usually treated with a six-month course of antibiotics, which MUST be completed in order to discourage recurrence of disease or drug resistance.
  • Other symptoms include: lack of appetite, fatigue and a general sense of feeling unwell. TB may also affects glands causing a swollen neck, or bone and joints leading to aches and pains. TB meningitis often gives a person severe headaches and, although rare, may result in death.
  • It is unusual to catch TB simply by sitting next to an infected person on the train. The infection normally requires prolonged and close contact in order to spread from person to person.
  • Under half of cases in the UK have the infectious form of the disease. Most cases present little or no risk to others.
  • TB affects children and adults differently. It is very uncommon to catch TB from a child with the disease.
  • TB treatment is free for the patient.

Professor Maria Zambon, Director of the HPA's Centre for Infections, said:

"Although some progress is being made, the consistent increase in the number of cases of TB in the UK means our efforts to control the disease must be strengthened. Both health professionals and the general public alike must remain vigilant if we are to eradicate this major global killer infection."

In May 2010 the HPA will launch the national strain typing service, which aims to improve understanding of how TB is spread in the community and help to identify at-risk groups. This will help to inform how public health resources are allocated and, in turn, prevent outbreaks and improve diagnosis and treatment of cases.

- Ends -
Notes to editors:

  1. Provisional new tuberculosis cases by region/country, UK, 2005-2009

Region/country 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
East Midlands 563 579 574 535 596
East of England 474 446 359 474 486
London 3541 3445 3333 3415 3476
North East 136 145 199 172 168
North West 749 764 759 758 841
Northern Ireland 76 61 65 59 42
Scotland 362 384 401 455 468
South East 508 645 727 692 765
South West 268 280 273 268 337
Wales 164 168 193 167 220
West Midlands 938 984 941 1027 1035
Yorkshire & the Humber 591 654 672 657 719
UK 8370 8555 8496 8679 9153
  1. For further information about TB and to download a copy of this year's newsletter please visit http://www.hpa.org.uk/webw/HPAweb&Page&HPAwebAutoListName/Page/1191942150134?p=1191942150134
    Information can also be found on the website for the UK's national tuberculosis charity, TB alert, at www.thetruthabouttb.org and on the NHS Choices website at http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/HomePage.aspx
  2. World TB Day, which is observed on 24 March each year and organised by the World Health Organization, aims to build public awareness of the disease and commemorates the day in 1882 when the cause of tuberculosis, TB bacillus, was first discovered. More information can be found at http://www.stoptb.org.
  3. For further information on this press release please contact the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections press office on:
    Eleanor Bunch 020 8327 7751
    Alexandra Baker  020 8327 7098
    Louise Brown  020 8327 7080
    Kate Swan  020 8327 7097

Last reviewed: 14 June 2010