People urged not to dismiss coughs and fever as Covid amid rise in TB cases

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.

24 March 2022

People are being urged not to dismiss a cough as Covid after figures showed a rise in tuberculosis (TB) cases.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the decline in TB up to 2019 appears to have reversed, with cases increasing by 2.4% in England – from 4,615 in 2018 to 4,725 in 2019.

While TB cases fell in 2020, most likely due to people staying away from the NHS during the pandemic, suggestions are that infections rose by more than 7% in 2021.

Anyone with a cough, particularly those in groups at a higher risk of catching TB, are being urged not to dismiss their persistent cough and fever as the coronavirus.

TB can be life-threatening, though most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

It is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.

While TB mainly affects the lungs, it can damage other parts of the body, including the abdomen, glands, bones and nervous system.

People are at a higher risk of catching TB if they are in close contact with a person known to have the disease, migrate from countries with high rates of TB, are homeless, addicted to drugs, have a weakened immune system, or are in prison.

Dr Jenny Harries, 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 three weeks can be caused by a range of other issues, including TB.

“Tuberculosis develops slowly, and it may take several weeks, months or even years after you were infected before you notice you’re unwell.

“Contact your GP if you think you could be at risk so you can get tested and treated.”

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