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Renewed calls to tackle tuberculosis

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There has been an upward trend in TB recently The decline in TB unexpectedly came to an end in 2019

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is asking healthcare professionals to help reverse an upward trend in tuberculosis cases.

The incidence of TB in England had been falling significantly since 2011, when it was among the highest in western Europe with a total of 8,280 cases recorded. However, in 2019 the rate of decline reversed, with cases increasing by 2.4% (from 4,615 in 2018 to 4,725 in 2019).

While TB incidence appeared to fall in 2020 (to 4,125), this most likely reflected healthcare access and provisions during the pandemic and provisional data indicates that cases of the infection rose by 7.4% in 2021 compared to 2020.

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‘TB is curable and preventable and now is the time to get our elimination efforts back on track. Despite significant progress towards elimination in recent years, tuberculosis remains a serious public health issue in the UK,’ said Dr Jenny Harries, the CEO of UKHSA.

‘With treatment, most people will make a full recovery, but delayed diagnosis and treatment, particularly during the pandemic, will have increased the number of undetected TB cases in the country.’

Numbers and rates of cases with drug resistance increased in both 2019 and 2020. There were more cases of drug-resistant TB in 2020 than any year since enhanced surveillance began. 11.6% of cases were resistant to any drug and 2.4% were multidrug resistant (compared to 1.8% in 2019).

TB disproportionally impacts under-served populations such as those who have been homeless, spent time in prison or misused drugs and other substances. Ensuring that everyone has access to a timely diagnosis and effective treatment is critical.

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‘Despite significant progress made in the last decade towards eliminating tuberculosis in England, it is very concerning to see an upward trend in cases. TB is a serious infectious disease, and without treatment it can be life-threatening,’ said Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.

‘TB disproportionately affects people in deprived and underserved groups, so it is vital everyone has access to effective treatment so we can continue to level up health across the nation.’

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