British TB cases up by 20% in a decade

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CASES OF tuberculosis have risen by more than one-fifth in a decade in England and Wales, according to the Public Health Laboratory Service.

Homelessness, poverty, overcrowding and drug resistant strains of the disease have contributed to the increase.The figures, presented yesterday at a British Thoracic Society meeting, show that the number of cases in London has risen by nearly one-third since 1993. TB rates in the capital are four times higher than in the rest of the country.

TB, which not only affects the lungs but can invade any organ, is curable with a six-month course of antibiotics. However, many sufferers stop taking the drugs when they start feeling better, and this has led to the development of drug- resistant strains of the illness.

Dr Peter Ormerod, of Blackburn Royal Infirmary in Lancashire, said a lack of NHS staff to tackle the disease had also contributed to the rise in cases. He found that six out of 10 health districts had an inadequate number of trained nurses to deal with TB. He assessed 43 health districts with the highest TB rates and found that only one in six had the minimum standards of nursing and clerical staff.

"TB is not a disease of the history books. It is vitally important that we continue to invest in measures to combat the disease, especially in areas of high incidence," he said.

In 1998, there were 5,658 TB cases in England and Wales, a rise of nearly 1,000 on 1988.