By Kate Kelland, Reuters
LONDON–Britain is the only country in Western Europe with rising rates of tuberculosis and in London cases of the disease once dubbed “the white plague” have grown by nearly 50 percent since 1999, a study showed on Friday. Britain has more than 9,000 cases of tuberculosis (TB) diagnosed a year and the problem is becoming particularly acute in the capital, which accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s total diagnosed cases, researchers said. Alimuddin Zumla, a global TB expert from University College London, said the situation in London was reminiscent of outbreaks of multi-drug resistant TB in prisons in the United States in the 1990s — outbreaks that required a large financial investment to be brought under control. “Poor housing, inadequate ventilation, and overcrowding — conditions prevalent in Victorian Britain — are causes of the higher TB incidence rates in certain London boroughs,” he said in a commentary on the study, which was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. He said that in Britain, as in all European countries, the disease was mainly concentrated in high-risk groups such as migrants, refugees, homeless people, drug users, prisoners, and people infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. A report last month found that cases of tuberculosis in Britain reached their highest level for 30 years in 2009 with 9,040 cases, and the number of new drug-resistant TB cases had almost doubled in the past decade. Up to a third of people worldwide are infected with the bacterium that causes TB, although only a small percentage ever develop the disease. Studies show that people with substance abuse problems and those who live in hard-to-reach communities are more prone to the illness than the general population. The AIDS epidemic drove up the number of TB cases across the world in the late 1980s and 1990s because the immune suppression caused by HIV can make a person far more susceptible to TB.
People can get drug-resistant forms of the TB either as a result of catching such a strain from another person or because of inappropriate or incomplete treatment.