Tuberculosis which was the biggest killer disease in the UK during the 1800s has made a comeback , with a leap of over 10% from 2004 to 2005. Th number of cases have been rising from the late 1980s , but this has been the single largest leap , causing great concern to government health agencies.
The disease which killed several famous poets like John Keats and Robert Louis Stevenson , was thought to have been conquered by very effective TB drugs, and was at an all time low in late 1980s. However the incidence started rising from then on and has now reached alarming levels, further complicated by the advent of drug resistant strains which accounted for over 600 cases in London.
The issue is also delicate on the political level , as the disease has attacked mostly immigrants of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi backgrounds. Dr John Watson, head of the HPA's Respiratory Diseases Department, said that non UK born patients accounted for 5310 cases out of 8113 , while the UK born population's levels remained low and stable.
However Dr.Watson added that of these only 22% had arrived in the UK during the past 2 years. This suggests that they had caught the infection after arrival , or the disease had been lying dormant and became active later when their immune system was weak.
Detecting the condition in its dormant state is possible with a blood test but specialists said.it required trials and could take several years to use it for screening the disease.
Over the past decade England and Wales are the only countries in the EU to have seen an increase in TB cases. The number of cases in Germany, France and Spain have decreased by up to 35 per cent. New York has seen a decrease of 50%.
John Moore-Gillon, president of the British Lung Foundation said that the situation in the UK was urgent and called for strong action . More resources and more specialist TB nurses are needed to tackle the disease in the high risk group.
The first phase of a screening programme was introduced last year by the Home Office . People from countries like Sudan , Thailand, Tanzania and Thailand who wish to visit the UK for more than 6 months have to be screened with an X-ray . They also require a certificate giving the all clear from an accredited clinic in their country.
Anyone who appears ill is also examined at airports like Gatwick and Heathrow.
Public Health Minister Caroline Flint that these measures could help tackle the problem in England but long term, sustained efforts are required to solve the problem on a global level . Criticism was voiced by Andrew Murrison , a shadow health minister about the government's failure to control a "preventable and treatable disease".