The UK Health Security Agency is urging healthcare professionals and the public not to dismiss symptoms of tuberculosis, as cases are rising in England

tuberculosis_88316908_Tatiana Shepeleva

The incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in England had been decreasing significantly since 2011, when it was among the highest in western Europe with a total of 8,280 cases recorded. However, in 2019, the rate of decline reversed, with cases increasing by 2.4% (from 4,615 in 2018 to 4,725 in 2019).

Although TB cases appeared to fall in 2020, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says this likely reflected healthcare access and provisions during the pandemic, and provisional data indicates that cases rose by 7.4% in 2021 compared to 2020.

The UKHSA is advising people with a cough, particularly those in groups that are at high risk for TB, not to dismiss their symptoms as COVID-19—they could be caused by a range of other issues, including TB.

TB can be life threatening without appropriate treatment, however in most cases it can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of TB include:

  • a persistent cough that lasts more than 3 weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody
  • breathlessness that gradually gets worse
  • lack of appetite and weight loss
  • a high temperature
  • night sweats
  • extreme tiredness or fatigue.

Dr Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the UKHSA, said: ‘TB is curable and preventable and now is the time to get our elimination efforts back on track. Despite significant progress towards elimination in recent years, tuberculosis remains a serious public health issue in the UK.

‘With treatment, most people will make a full recovery, but delayed diagnosis and treatment, particularly during the pandemic, will have increased the number of undetected TB cases in the country.

‘It is important to remember that not every persistent cough, along with a fever, is COVID-19. A cough that usually has mucus and lasts longer than 3 weeks can be caused by a range of other issues, including TB.’

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Lead image: Tatiana Shepeleva/stock.adobe.com
Image 1: Tatiana Shepeleva/stock.adobe.com