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TB screening gaps among those most at risk are revealed

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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A recent survey of all primary healthcare providers in the UK has revealed that around 40% are failing to implement the recommended screening programmes to detect tuberculosis among those most at risk

Last year, a report revealed that 70% of 9,000 new TB cases had occurred among recent migrants from countries where the condition remains prevalent. Consequently, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended a co-ordinated screening programme to detect latent TB among these migrant groups.

The areas in the UK that have failed to implement the programme, include those with the highest migrant TB rates, namely London and Birmingham, who tend to allocate all their resources to the daily burden of treating the disease. This means that many of those with latent TB are not being identified.

Nicola Benge, Birmingham’s director of public health has admitted that ‘in terms of targeted screening, we are not looking for latent TB we are looking for TB’.

However, identifying patients with latent TB can be just as important. It is thought that around 80% of active cases of TB are reactivated cases of latent bacteria. Latent TB is not contagious and if indentified in these early stages can be treated with a short course of antibiotics. This treatment prevents the condition from developing into active TB and spreading to other people.

The latest statistics have revealed a 7% rise in new cases of TB, perhaps a reflection of the inadequate screening procedures currently in place. Nicola Benge has stated that Birmingham’s public health services are currently re-commissioning their TB programme and looking for a way to include latent screening, although whether NICE’S programme will be implemented nationally remains to be seen.

By Juliet Anderson