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The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"Last year more than 6,000 people were diagnosed with the disease"
 real 56k

BTS spokesman Professor Peter Ormerod
"We are going to hit 7,000 cases this year"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 December, 2000, 11:14 GMT
Extended TB screening 'crucial'
Tuberculosis bacteria: better screening needed
Tuberculosis bacteria: Better screening needed
Tuberculosis screening programmes need to be boosted with extra funding and staff, says the British Thoracic Society.

It has called for at least 8 million to be invested in doctors and nurses, particularly in areas with high numbers of asylum seekers.

The BTS made the plea after researchers told its winter conference asylum seekers have a 22 times higher rate of tuberculosis than the UK average.

Professor Peter Ormerod, British Thoracic Society
Professor Ormerod called for "adequate funding"
But experts say the problem is not confined to asylum seekers or immigrants - with more than six thousands cases in England and Wales last year.

The reasons for the increase in cases are not fully known. However, half of all cases are found in people who were born abroad.

TB can affect anyone, but those most likely to develop it are people living in poverty, with low immunity.

It is only contracted through prolonged contact with a sufferer.

Doctors from Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex analysed checks on 50,000 asylum seekers arriving at Heathrow airport between 1995 and 1999.

Of the 41,470 screened 100 had active TB and 256 people were referred on to hospitals.

The British Thoracic Society (BTS) is now calling for more resources to be ploughed into local screening programmes.

'Complacency' warning

Dr Robert Davidson, a consultant in infectious diseases at Northwick Park, analysed data from Heathrow airport's screening programme.

He said: "Over half of TB cases in the UK occur in people born overseas, and it is encouraging that some screening is in place - but there is no room for complacency."

The results were presented to the British Thoracic Society's meeting in London on Friday.

The BTS says screening at ports of entry should involve taking a history of TB infection and treatment.

Funding demand

Professor Peter Ormerod, a respiratory specialist and BTS spokesman warned: "TB cases in England and Wales are continuing to rise.

"While the screening of new immigrants and refugees from high prevalence countries is recommended by both the BTS and the Department of Health, it is vital that adequate funding, particularly for TB nurses, specialists and support services is given to help contain this increasing problem."

Dr John Harvey, chairman of the BTS external relations committee added: "The lung specialist to patient ratio is at a critical level and is currently running at only half the European average.

"We need to take action now to address this shortage."

Dr John Moore-Gillon, a lung specialist and British Lung Foundation spokesman estimated the UK needed 50 extra lung specialists and 200 specialist TB nurses, with half in London and the rest in other TB hotspots.

He pointed out the research suggested 400 cases of TB cases among asylum seekers could have been spotted, but said during that period there were 27-28,000 cases of TB.

Dr Moore-Gillon added: "If you had picked up every single asylum seeker case, it would have made a dent, but not a big one."

Paul Sommerfeld, chairman of TB Alert, which campaigns to raise the profile of the disease, said concerted action was needed to tackle the problem of TB world-wide.

"We need to diagnose as quickly as possible anyone who does have TB, treat them properly and seek out any contacts."

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Health
Sharp increase in tuberculosis
17 Aug 00 | Health
TB 'toughness gene' uncovered
26 May 98 | T-Z
Tuberculosis
14 Dec 99 | Health
Sharp rise in TB cases
09 Nov 99 | Health
TB warning as jabs run out
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