A deadly strain of tuberculosis which cannot be treated by most drugs is on the rise in Britain, health officials warn.
The number of cases of so-called ‘multidrug resistant’ TB have doubled in the past decade.
Figures from the Health Protection Agency show that there were 58 cases in 2009, up from just 28 in 2000.
But experts say that the true number of infections is much higher because many cases are never reported to authorities.
The resistant strain normally develops when patients with ordinary TB stop taking their antibiotics because they feel better or they simply forget.
But not all the bacteria in their body has been killed and the remainder mutates to become resistant to the drug.
This new strain then spreads very quickly and scientists say that every person infected passes the illness on to a least ten others.
Around half of patients with this super form of TB will die because they are not given the right drugs in time.
This particular type of the illness can be treated only with a handful of drugs which are far more expensive, and aren’t readily available.
The World Health Organisation yesterday issued a warning that multi-drug resistant TB is spreading at an ‘alarming rate’ across Europe.
Scientist say all GPs and hospital doctors need to be trained to spot the early warning signs in patients to stop it being passed on.
Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, a TB expert at the Health Protection Agency’s centre for infections, said: ‘I think without a doubt there’s a need to make all healthcare workers, but GPs and A&E staff in particular, aware of the signs and symptoms of TB so they can recognise this earlier.’
Dr Ogtay Gozalov, from the WHO European regional office, said anyone could become infected with resistant TB, not just groups such as children, migrants and the homeless.
‘It can affect anyone,’ he said. ‘Any one of us can be exposed to these diseases and get infected.
‘A big proportion of these people who are infected can convert and develop the resistant disease.’
Rates of all types of TB have hit a 30-year-high and there were 9,040 cases last year, the highest number recorded since 1979, when there were 9,266 cases.
This increase is partly due to higher numbers of immigrants coming in from India, South-East Asia and Africa where the disease is widespread.
London has by far the highest rates of infections in Britain, accounting for 40 per cent of the country’s total number of cases.
Other hotspots include Birmingham, Leicester and North-West England
The disease infects the lungs and typical symptoms include cough, fever, tiredness, lack of appetite night sweats and weight loss.