Health officials raised the alert yesterday over a new drug-resistant and more deadly form of tuberculosis, saying the disease now poses a more serious threat to Europe than at any time since the Second World War.
The world's deadliest curable illness, which is spread by coughing and sneezing, has taken a strong hold in and around the EU's borders, particularly in former Soviet countries where Aids has also flourished.
Markuu Niskala, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said: "The drug resistance that we are seeing now is without doubt the most alarming TB situation on the continent since the Second World War, and our message to EU leaders is, 'Wake up. Do not delay. Do not let this problem get further out of hand'."
The comments came as health officials launched a campaign to fight the epidemic, which has been prompted by rapid spread of the disease in Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
About 450,000 people fall sick with TB and nearly 70,000 die from it in the European region each year.
Lasha Goguadze, senior health officer for the IFRC, said: "TB is one of the poverty-related diseases and these countries are not able to cope with the problem."
With a highly-mobile population in Europe, TB is spreading to more affluent areas. In London it has been on the rise for about a decade and rates in some areas such as Newham are as high as 100 per 100,000.