The Health Protection Agency’s 2006 Tuberculosis in the UK report indicates that the rate of infections in the country might be on the verge of a slowdown.

In 2006, there were 8,497 cases of TB reported in the UK asa whole, including, for the first time, those in Scotland, which totalled 384.This falls in line with last year’s figure (excluding Scotland) of 8,113.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady increase in the number of TB infections in the country, but Ibrahim Abubakar, head of the tuberculosis section at the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections,says it is still too early to judge whether this year’s flat infection ratespoint to a slowdown.

Furthermore, he said, “although levels of TB among the general population continue to be low, in some areas of the UK, such as the inner cities, it is clear that rates of TB remain high.”

London remains top of the table in terms of the number of infections recorded, accounting for the largest portion of cases (40%) and the highest rate per population – 44.8 per 100,000. In addition, the greatest number and proportion of drug resistant cases – which are much harder to treat- were reported in the Capital.

Global epidemic declining

According to the HPA, recent estimates indicate that the global epidemic is on the verge of decline, but the disease still remains an important cause of morbidity and mortality; there were around 8.8 million new cases and 1.6 million related deaths in 2005. “The impact of these global changes, if any, on UK trends will take many years to manifest,” it says.

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. It usually causes disease in the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body, and is transmitted through coughing of infectious droplets. Treatment is usually comprised of a combination of antibiotics, this must be continued for at least six months.

To help combat the growing problem in the UK, the Department of Health published Tuberculosis prevention and treatment: a toolkit for planning, commissioning and delivering high-quality services in England,earlier this year, laying out minimum standards for the delivery of related health services in the country.

The Agency says it will work closely with the both the DHand National Health Service to ensure successful implementation of these strategies, to help reduce transmission of the disease in and boost the quality of care and treatment outcomes for all patients.