The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned over the rise in drug resistant tuberculosis in Europe and has drawn up a plan to address the problem.
The highest level of tuberculosis infections is found in Eastern Europe and tends to be concentrated in large cities. London has the highest rate of any capital city in Europe, where 3,500 new cases are reported every year.
Tuberculosis is an airborne virus which attacks the lungs and is transmitted in droplets of moisture when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease can be fatal and kills about 7% of people who are infected.
The TB virus is usually treated by a course of medication, but failure to complete the course can lead to the disease becoming resistant to the medication. Approximately half of people with the drug resistant form of the disease will die from it.
The WHO estimate that there are 81,000 cases of drug resistant TB in Europe every year. They plan to improve diagnosis of the disease and improve access to drugs to treat it, in the hope of saving 120,000 lives and several billions of pounds by 2015.
There were 58 cases of drug resistant TB reported in the UK in 2009 and experts are urging doctors to be vigilant for any possible new occurrences of the infection.
Dr Ibrahim Abubakar from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) suggested that whilst the overall numbers of drug resistant tuberculosis are low, the figures have been rising in the last ten years.
He added: “We cannot be complacent. The cost of managing each case can stretch to several hundred thousand pounds. So it’s significant – and while that person is infectious, other people can get TB.”