Tuberculosis cases on the increase in Sunderland

Paul Davison, director of the PHE Health Protection team in the North East.

Paul Davison, director of the PHE Health Protection team in the North East.

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THE number of people diagnosed with deadly tuberculosis in the North East increased last year, new figures show.

Public Health England (PHE) say there were 166 cases of TB in 2012, compared to 131 in 2011. Those figures follow a steady decline over the previous four years.

The bacterial disease typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.

It spreads through the air when people who have an active TB infection cough, sneeze, or transmit respiratory fluids.

“TB is a preventable and treatable condition,” said Paul Davison, director of health protection at the North East PHE Centre. “But if left untreated can be life-threatening. Although we have seen an increase in the number of cases diagnosed in the North East, we think that a proportion of this may be due to improved reporting systems, and we still have some of the lowest levels of the disease in the country.

“Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are key, so we encourage local health service commissioners to prioritise the delivery of appropriate clinical and public health services for TB.”

The rate in the North East is now 6.4 per 100,000 people.

Rates of TB have stabilised nationally at about 14 cases per 100,000 since the mid 2000s.

Almost three quarters of cases were in people born in countries where TB is more common.

Of those born abroad, the majority of cases were from South Asia, 60 per cent, and sub-Saharan Africa, 22 per cent.

In the UK-born population, those most at risk are people from ethnic minority groups, those with social risk factors such as a history of homelessness, imprisonment or problem use of drugs or alcohol and the elderly.

Dr Paul Cosford, PHE director for health protection, said: “TB remains an important public health problem, particularly in London and among people from vulnerable communities.

“We have, therefore, made TB one of the key priorities for PHE, and are working with key stakeholders to oversee the development of a stronger national approach to TB control.

“This will have at its heart support to local clinical, preventive and social care services in the NHS, local government and wider health and social care system.

“We are determined to see a sustained reduction in TB, and will work tirelessly to support local partners in those areas where the burden is greatest.”