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One in 20 TB patients are failing to complete the full treatment for their infection because they are lost to follow up, according to new Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures published in its Annual TB Report 2011

The annual report also reveals there were 8,483 new cases of TB reported in the UK in 2010 - a decrease of 4.9 per cent from 2009 when there were 8,917 cases. As in previous years, London accounted for the highest proportion of cases in the UK with almost 40 per cent, followed by the West Midlands with 11 per cent. The main burden of disease remains concentrated in certain urban areas. Sixty per cent of TB cases in the UK occurred in young adults aged 15-44 years old and over half (57 per cent) were male.

Across the board significant progress has been made in increasing the proportion of patients completing treatment, thanks to new initiatives like the ‘Find and Treat’ service in London, but the fact that five per cent of patients are still not completing the treatment is of concern.

TB is treatable with a six month course of antibiotics, but, if the full course is not completed, the infection may linger and can develop resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it. Failure to complete treatment also contributes towards onward transmission putting other people, particularly close family contacts, at risk.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the HPA said: “While the decline we are seeing in the incidence of tuberculosis after nearly two decades of increasing rates is encouraging, we’ll need to assess the trends over the next few years to see whether this is a true reversal. In the meantime efforts to strengthen TB control should be continued and we should not become complacent. The key to reducing levels of TB is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. TB is a preventable and treatable condition but, if left untreated, can be life threatening.

“We remain very concerned that five per cent of TB patients don’t fully complete their treatment. Patients who do not finish the full six month course of treatment risk developing a drug-resistant form of TB infection that is much more difficult to treat successfully. People who remain untreated are not only jeopardising their own health and wellbeing but also those people they are in close contact with as they may remain infectious.”

Dr Abubakar added: “It’s important that we continue to work in partnership with public health and NHS colleagues both nationally and locally to ensure that everyone who is diagnosed with the infection finishes their treatment. Efforts need to be made to target high risk groups such as immigrants from countries with a high burden of TB, homeless persons, problem drug users and prisoners.”

TB is an infection caused by bacteria. TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. It is spread from person to person when someone who has TB of the lungs coughs or sneezes. Only some people with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people and even then, close and prolonged contact is needed to be at risk of being infected. Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB:


  • Fever and night sweats
  • Persistent cough
  • Losing weight
  • Blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time
Written by Scott Buckler
Wednesday, 07 December 2011 12:12

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