Cases of deadly Victorian disease on the rise, experts warn

CDC explains how tuberculosis can be transmitted

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The tuberculosis surveillance and monitoring report of 2023 detailed how the number of deaths rose from 27,000 in 2020 to 27,300 in 2021 due to the disease. Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. If an infected person coughs, the disease is expelled into the air and can be breathed in by people nearby.

The contagious infection “remains a public health issue”, the report noted.

TB “can cause disease in any organ”, but the illness “usually develops slowly”, the NHS warns.

“Your symptoms might not begin until months or even years after you were initially infected,” the health body cautions.

TB can lead to:

  • A lack of appetite and weight loss
  • A high temperature (fever)
  • Night sweats
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue.


Most TB infections affect the lungs, which can cause:

  • A persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody
  • Breathlessness that gradually gets worse.

If TB affects the lymph nodes, the bones and joints, and other body parts, it can lead to:

  • Persistently swollen glands
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain
  • Pain and loss of movement in an affected bone or joint
  • Confusion
  • A persistent headache
  • Seizures (fits).

The diagnosis of pulmonary TB (in the lungs) can be difficult as several test are required.

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“This will include a chest X-ray to look for changes in the appearance of your lungs that are suggestive of TB,” the NHS adds.

“Samples of phlegm will also often be taken and checked for the presence of TB bacteria.”

Extrapulmonary TB (TB that occurs outside the lungs) might be diagnosed following a CT scan, an MRI, and an ultrasound alongside urine and blood tests.

If TB is diagnosed, the infected person will need to take a course of antibiotics, typically lasting several months.

“While TB is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated, deaths are rare if treatment is completed,” the NHS says.

The 2023 WHO report does show that TB cases for 2021 were less than that recorded in 2019.

However, the pandemic meant “patients experienced difficulties in accessing clinical services”.

Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, added that this possibly resulted in “delayed diagnosis”.

Ammon added: “Therefore, we need to increase the number of people diagnosed and successfully treated.”

In the last 20 years, TB cases have gradually increased; in 2014, more than 6,500 cases of TB were reported in England.

It’s estimated that around one-third of the world’s population is infected with latent TB.

Latent TB is when you’ve been infected with TB bacteria but do not have symptoms of an active infection.

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