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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 00:42 GMT
TB care boost as cases increase
TB bacterium
TB often affects people living in poverty
The number of cases of tuberculosis in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has risen to over 7,000 a year, figures from the Health Protection Agency show.

They show levels of TB - which kills 300 to 400 people in the UK each year - have been rising everywhere in the UK, except Scotland, since the late 1980s.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new guidance on treating TB.

It says there should be more screening and better support for patients.

This guideline is not about pointing the finger at the non-UK born who are disproportionately affected by TB
Professor Peter Ormerod
Adviser to NICE

There were 7,167 cases of TB reported in 2004 compared with 6,837 in 2003 - there are nearly 8.8 million new cases of TB worldwide every year.

It can affect anyone. But almost three quarters of those who develop the disease are born abroad in countries where TB is endemic.

Living in poverty also increases a person's risk of TB.

Action plan

The NICE guidelines, launched to coincide with World TB Day on Friday, also suggest support for patients to help them complete courses of treatment.

Screening people coming to the UK
Vaccination for babies in high-risk areas
More checks for the homeless

They also back a proposal in the government's TB Action Plan for England, published last year, which said babies born in areas with high TB rates should be given the BCG jab against the disease - but says routine immunisation of school age children is not recommended.

The guidelines also calls for people who are homeless to be screened for TB if they come into contact with health services for other reasons, or if they show symptoms.

Professor Peter Ormerod, consultant physician in respiratory and general medicine, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and a clinical advisor to the group which developed the guidelines, said: "The sooner TB is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

"This guideline is not about pointing the finger at the non-UK born who are disproportionately affected by TB.

"But is about making sure those who have active TB are identified as soon as possible so they can be offered access to treatment as quickly as possible, which both treats their TB and breaks the cycle of transmission between people."

However, experts say these measures should be backed up by improved housing and nutrition in deprived areas, and a better understanding of TB among doctors and patients to get rid of any surviving stigma.

TB Alert chairman Paul Sommerfeld added: "TB is a major health issue both globally and in the UK.

"We hope the NHS will allocate the resources required to bring TB numbers in this country down."

The HPA's laboratories have also introduced genetic fingerprinting technology to enable better identification of the different strains of the bacteria that cause TB to enable outbreaks to be identified faster.

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