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Saturday, 27 January, 2001, 17:42 GMT
Big rise in TB cases
The TB bacterium causes serious lung disease
The number of cases of tuberculosis (TB) recorded in England and Wales has hit an 18-year high, official figures show.

Provisional data from the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) showed that the number of cases rose by more than 10% last year to the highest rate since 1983.

The PHLS registered 6,797 cases of TB in England and Wales in 2000, compared to 6,144 in 1999.

Experts are concerned that the lung disease is on the rise again after a 40-year decline.

Big rise

There has been a 34% increase in TB rates in England and Wales since 1987.

Most of the increase was among men or people living in London.

Most victims are thought to have recently moved to the UK from places were the disease is much more common.

Strains of the disease that are resistant to traditional antibiotic treatments have begun to emerge in recent years.

Dr John Watson, of the PHLS, said: "London has already put extra resources into TB control but continued effort will be needed in those areas where the increases are focused to ensure not only that patients with TB receive early and effective treatment, but also that those are at higher risk are screened to prevent the disease."

Dr Peter Ormerod of the British Thoracic Society (BTS) said money must be made availabe to fight the disease.

He said: "The mistaken belief that TB is a disease of yesteryear has lead to complacency - and the withdrawal of vital funds for health staff to monitor the disease in the community. The recent rise in the disease suggests we may be dropping our guard in the UK.

"We must address this. It is vitally important that we continue to invest in measures to combat TB - especially in areas of high incidence - such as London.

"It is a false economy to withdraw money from the fight against TB.

"The cost of paying staff to control and treat the disease effectively is far, far lower than the huge bill for treating patients with multi-drug resistant forms of the disease - which often results from inadequate services to monitor patients".

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