The sharp rise in tuberculosis in Britain over the past decade, which has been widely portrayed as spreading through the indigenous population, is almost wholly confined to the immigrant community, a new study shows.

The sharp rise in tuberculosis in Britain over the past decade, which has been widely portrayed as spreading through the indigenous population, is almost wholly confined to the immigrant community, a new study shows.

In the five years to 1998, TB fell among whites and Asians but more than doubled among the Chinese and rose by more than one third among black Africans. Overall, the number of new cases increased by 11 per cent during the period.

Although overall rates of TB are rising after decades in which the disease was falling, the research shows that most TB is imported from countries where it is epidemic rather than spread from person to person in the UK. The highest rate in 1998 was among black Africans at 210 cases for every 100,000 people. Among whites the rate was 4.38 cases for every 100,000 people.

Latest figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service show that cases of TB are continuing to rise with a 10.6 per cent increase last year. The number of cases in England and Wales in 2000 was 6,797, the highest rate for 17 years and 34 per cent up on the rate in 1987. Most of the increase was among adults of working age.

The survey, a joint project by the service, the Department of Health and the British Thoracic Society, is published in the journal Thorax.

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