Tuberculosis (TB)TB is an infectious disease that used to be known as “consumption” because of the way it slowly consumed sufferers. Unlike many infectious diseases, TB is much less infectious, and therefore much more difficult to catch than diseases such as measles and chickenpox. Only a third of people who are in prolonged close contact with a person with TB become infected. Once infected with TB, just 4% (1 in 25) will develop the disease within a year and a further 4% will develop TB within their lifetime. The remainder – the large majority – are able to keep the disease under control and remain reasonably healthy.
Tuberculosis most commonly attacks the lungs, typically causing a cough, fever and weight loss, though the disease can affect most parts of the body. Over 8,000 people a year get TB in the UK, of whom three quarters were born outside the UK. Around 400 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with the disease every year. The vast majority of people catching TB can be successfully treated with a six to nine month course of antibiotics.
TB is most common in inner cities, areas of poverty and homelessness, and in families originating from areas with high rates of TB such as the Indian subcontinent.
Nearly half of all the cases of TB in the UK occur in London. However, rates of TB in some London boroughs, such as Newham, Brent, Hackney and Ealing are much higher than others, such as Richmond, Bexley and Bromley. There are also a few TB hotspots outside London, such as Leicester and Slough.