Despite the UK almost eradicating TB in the 1980s, there has been a steady increase in cases since then. Outbreak Of Tuberculosis – “The White Plague” Hits Derby.
What Is Tuberculosis?
The bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes TB. In the vast majority of cases, it affects the lungs; however, it can affect other organs. TB is spread by sneezing, coughing and prolonged contact with someone already infected with the disease. Unlike the common cold or flu, it is not typically passed on by “short-term” contact.
When someone gets infected with TB, they may show no symptoms at all for quite a long time, if someone infected by TB has a weak immune system, they usually develop the following symptoms:
- A persistent productive cough that brings up sputum or phlegm, which may contain blood
- Fever and sweating
- General symptoms of illness, such as fatigue
- Weight loss
There different forms of TB, Pulmonary TB affects the lungs specifically. Extrapulmonary TB occurs outside the lungs affecting organs such as the heart and brain. Multidrug-resistant TB is difficult to treat because of it’s resistance to antibiotics which means there are less favourable outcomes for those infected by this strain. Finally, there is “Latent TB” which means anyone infected by this form of the disease shows no signs of infection. In other words, the individual’s immune system persistently responds to Mycobacterium tuberculosis antigens sufficiently well enough to prevent symptoms, however once that persons immune system weakens the disease becomes “active”.
Tuberculosis In The UK
Tuberculosis or TB is a serious condition which if not treated, can become fatal. Back in the 1980s, TB was almost completely eradicated from our shores, but that changed with an increase in travelling abroad and exponentially higher levels of migration to the UK. TB is also linked to poor living conditions and poor diet (malnutrition).
TB Alert is a registered charity set up in 1998; their website mentions that UK levels of TB have drastically reduced, which is true. However, it also indicates that TB is “ever more associated with inequality”. The charity cites health inequality and points to economic inequality because “the rate of TB among the most deprived 10% of the population is six times higher than among the least deprived 10%.”
What the charity does not look at in any detail is a migration factor to tuberculosis in the UK. Back in 2010, the NHS reported that cases of TB infection gradually increased over the previous fifteen years, with a rate of 14.6 per 100,000 population. In London, cases had risen by almost 50% between 1999 and 2009. At the time of this NHS report, the UK was the only European country where TB rates continued to rise.
The NHS report of 2010 and the TB Alert charity agree that rates of TB are higher among people born outside the UK as opposed to those born within the UK. The NHS report of 2010 cites increases in “non-UK born groups” most affected by tuberculosis are African (28%), Indian (27%), and white people (10%). The report does say that 85% of individuals born overseas had lived in the UK for at least two years before being diagnosed. What the report does not give details on is whether the individuals were properly “screened” before entering the UK or whether these immigrant groups had the “latent” tuberculosis infection (LTBI) before developing symptoms leading to their diagnosis.
Health screening has, without doubt, become much much better over the years as more and more immigrants are looking to come to the UK. However, NHS “Health Tourism” from regions around the world with MILLIONS infected, coupled with a substantial “Illegal immigrant” population means that tuberculosis will remain a serious and credible threat to the health of the UK population. You can find World Health Organisation statistics for regions and individual countries by clicking HERE and HERE.
The current NHS Tuberculosis strategy for England 2015-2020 is systematically implementing new entrant latent TB screening. This means previous government initiatives failed to realise the risk of “latent” TB infection (LTBI), so who knows how many immigrants in the UK are already carrying this disease? There were no suitable preventative testing programmes because this one only went live in 2015. You can read more about that by clicking HERE.
This failure is recognised by the fact that Treatment for TB and Latent TB Infection (LTBI) in the UK is free for everyone, regardless of immigration status and irrespective of eligibility for other NHS care, such is the “risk” to national health.
You can read more about the NHS Tuberculosis strategy by clicking HERE.
Meanwhile, a new outbreak of TB has been reported in Derby and Derbyshire, further evidencing this disease is not confined to London. You can read more about that HERE.