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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 20:56 GMT
Mobile units tackle TB in London
The mobile digital screening van
The unit can visit different areas of London
A mobile digital screening van is being used to tackle the rising number of cases of tuberculosis in London.

The city has 20 times the rate of the lung disease than anywhere else in the UK, with 50 people infected every week.

The vans can test 300 people a day and the x-rays can diagnose if a patient has TB 30 seconds after they have been screened.

The x-ray can tell whether a person has become infectious, which helps to reduce the spread of the disease.

The rate of tuberculosis (TB) is linked to deprivation and the unit will be able to visit vulnerable groups such as hostels housing the homeless.

A patient being prepared for an x-ray in the mobile digital screening van
The unit can see 300 people a day

It is hoped it will have the same impact it had in Holland.

Rob van Hest, a tuberculosis consultant from Holland who will work with the London team, said: "Fifteen per cent of patients with TB in the Netherlands are found through one of these units.

"And in Rotterdam, since the introduction of this screening programme there has been a gradual decrease of the number of TB cases."

The vans were first seen in the UK in the 1950s.

The British Thoracic Society has called for their re-introduction and last October Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson released a TB action plan that backed the reintroduction of mobile X-ray vans.

Professor Peter Ormerod, of the BTS, said: "We hope that the launch of this unit will help to consign TB to the history books where it belongs."

Paul Sommerfeld, Chair of TB Alert said: "This is a very welcome initiative to increase speedy detection of TB among some of the groups of people most at risk in Britain."

Last December, the Health Protection Agency - an independent body that protects the health and well-being of everyone in England and Wales - used such a van, borrowed from the Netherlands, in its tests at three hostels and a prison.

Out of the 577 X-rays taken, 23 people were referred. Of those, three UK-born men were found to have active cases of TB.

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