Luton has one of the highest rates of TB in England

The rate of tuberculosis in Luton was among the highest in England last year, new figures show.

By News Reporter
Friday, 9th October 2020, 10:36 am
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 10:40 am

TB Alert, the UK's national charity for the disease which primarily affects the lungs, said it is "worrying" that the number of cases across England rose.

It also said that people who have TB, or have suffered lasting effects from it, may be at increased risk from coronavirus.

Public Health England figures show there were 24.0 cases of TB annually for every 100,000 people in Luton between 2017 and 2019, down slightly from 25.0 between 2016 and 2018.

This means Luton has one of the highest rates in England – at nearly three times the national average of 8.2 to 8.4 over the same period – ending seven successive years of falling rates.

Despite its high figures, Luton is behind the London borough of Newham, which has 45.0 TB cases per 100,000 people.

The disease is curable using antibiotics but can be fatal if left untreated.

TB Alert said it is responsible for more deaths than any other infection worldwide, and called for PHE's national TB action plan for 2020-25 to be launched as soon as possible.

Mike Mandelbaum, chief executive of the organisation, said: "It is worrying that the number of people with tuberculosis rose in 2019.

"We should take this as an early warning sign so that we don’t return to a pattern of rising rates like we saw in the 1990s and 2000s."

Like Covid-19, tuberculosis is an airborne disease that can be passed on by inhaling tiny droplets from an infected person's coughs and sneezes.

But it does not spread as easily as the cold or the flu, with prolonged periods of close contact with an infected person needed to catch it – and not everyone with TB is infectious.

Mr Mandelbaum added: "TB can affect nearly any part of the body but most often it affects people’s lungs, which is also the organ attacked by Covid-19.

"If people have TB or have been cured of it but left with damaged lungs, they may be at increased risk from Covid-19.

"They should ensure that any doctor treating or advising them knows their full medical history."

In Luton, the average annual number of TB cases dropped from 54 in 2016-18 to 51 in 2017-19.

The East of England had the fifth highest number of cases on average of the nine English regions, with 394.

A PHE spokesman said England has surpassed the World Health Organization's targets to reduce TB rates to 10 per 100,000 and is progressing towards the "pre-elimination stage", defined as 10 cases per million.

He added: “Despite a small rise in case numbers, the TB rate in England remains below the WHO definition of a low-incidence country, for a third consecutive year."