London, Tuberculosis Capital of Western Europe

Marcia Cheng, Comcast News, December 17, 2010

The number of people infected with tuberculosis has jumped by 50 percent in London in the last decade, making it the tuberculosis capital of Western Europe, a new report says.

Unlike other countries in the region where tuberculosis is dropping, the disease is on the rise in Britain, particularly in London. In 1999, there were about 2,309 cases.

By 2009, London had 3,450 cases of Britain’s more than 9,000 cases, according to an article published Friday in the medical journal, Lancet. Since only about 70 percent of active tuberculosis cases are picked up, those numbers are an underestimate.

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While tuberculosis remains rare in the U.K.–about 15 people per 100,000 people are infected–that is still higher than elsewhere in Western Europe. In France, an estimated 10 people per 100,000 have tuberculosis.

Once known as the “white plague” in England because of the loss of skin color in patients, tuberculosis was virtually wiped out after the introduction of drugs and vaccinations in the 1960s. But it has surged in recent years, including drug-resistant strains.

Most tuberculosis cases in Britain are in people born overseas, although not in recent arrivals. About 85 percent of people with tuberculosis have been in Britain for at least two years, meaning the disease is not being imported, but circulating locally.

“The rise in tuberculosis cases has nothing to do with migration and immigrants,” said Alimuddin Zumla of University College London, author of the commentary. “This is a fallacy that needs to be corrected,” he said, noting the same risks that plagued Victorian England–like poor housing, bad ventilation and overcrowding–are to blame for Britain’s current outbreak.

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