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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 15:33 GMT
West 'facing asbestos epidemic'
Asbestos has to be removed carefully
The UK and many other developed countries are on the verge of an asbestos disease epidemic, say doctors.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they said 100,000 people who are alive now will die from mesothelioma.

The cancer, which can take as long as 50 years to develop, is caused by the inhalation of asbestos.

The disease claims the lives of 1,800 people in the UK each year. However, doctors believe death rates will jump in the years ahead.

Health risks

Thousands of people were exposed to asbestos in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

The material was widely used as an insulator in buildings and industry until its health risks became known.

Many countries are seeing the rising tide of an epidemic
Professor Tom Treasure,
Guy's Hospital London

Builders, plumbers and shipyard workers are most likely to have been exposed to it.

But teachers and nurses are also believed to have been put at risk since asbestos was used in the construction of several schools and hospitals.

In addition, wives and daughters who washed the overalls of asbestos workers are among those who have died from mesothelioma.

Restrictions on the use of asbestos were introduced in the UK in 1983.

Since the disease has a long incubation period, doctors believe rates of mesothelioma still have to peak.

"The peak of the epidemic is expected in 2015 to 2020 when the death rate is likely to be 2,000 per year in the United Kingdom," said Professor Tom Treasure of Guy's Hospital in London.

He said other European countries and Australia are facing a similar rise in disease.

Early signs

However, rates of the disease in United States, which introduced restrictions much earlier, are believed to have peaked already.

Professor Treasure urged doctors around the world to be aware of the early signs of the disease.

"Many countries are seeing the rising tide of an epidemic and all doctors need to know how to recognise and diagnose this disease and what treatments are available," he said.

"The disease is increasing in frequency. There is nothing we can do now to prevent it in workers exposed to asbestos throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

"What we can do is recognise it early, treat it actively and learn about best treatment with carefully thought out studies because we will be seeing many more mesotheliomas in the next 25 years.

"In the developed world alone, 100,000 people alive now will die from it."

Sally Moore, a partner in Leigh Day and Company Solicitors, which acts for victims of asbestos-related illnesses and their families, said the report confirms its view that the number of cases is rising.

She said: "Because the disease does not manifest itself sometimes for more than 25 years, one of the biggest challenges claimants face in bringing claims for compensation is finding employers who have long since gone out of business or their insurers at the time.

"Although employers' liability insurance has been compulsory for many years, the system for tracking it down is complex."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The cancer takes at least twenty years to develop and is always fatal"



SEE ALSO:
Asbestos disease
08 Feb 03  |  A-B


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