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Sharp increase in TB cases

PUBLISHED: 16:04 26 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:23 05 July 2010

THERE has been a sharp increase in tuberculosis in Yarmouth and Waveney - but health chiefs do not believe it is linked to the decision to stop vaccinating schoolchildren.

THERE has been a sharp increase in tuberculosis in Yarmouth and Waveney - but health chiefs do not believe it is linked to the decision to stop vaccinating schoolchildren.

There have been 20 cases in Yarmouth and Waveney since April, and another three possible cases reported this week. During the previous year there were 12 cases - which means that month-by-month the number of cases has gone up almost four times.

It has meant a big increase in workload for the primary care trust's TB nurses, who have to work out who every person diagnosed with TB has had close contact with, and then contact those people to test and treat them for the disease. Fortnightly community clinics have been set up in Yarmouth and Lowestoft for prevention and screening.

Yarmouth and Waveney TB nurse Jean Freeth said: “It has just grown and grown. It is quite worrying really. We have had local clusters in Lowestoft and Yarmouth but most of the cases have not been related.

“I think the rise is down to people being on the move more. This disease is a disease that travels with people. Some of our patients have had contact with people from high-risk countries.

She added: “There has been some discontent from parents about the block immunisation of schoolchildren being withdrawn, especially now the rate of TB is increasing.”

The vaccine is most effective if given to children under five, and as a result of a national policy decision in 2006, only babies from high-risk groups are routinely immunised instead of all children at age 12.

TB is only caught through close contact. Children, the elderly, drug users, the homeless, and people living in poor or overcrowded housing are most at risk. Symptoms include a persistent cough, fever and weight loss. It is treated with a six-month course of antibiotics.

But Norfolk and Suffolk is still considered a low-prevalence area for TB. It is most common in London. In Norfolk as a whole there have been 42 cases so far this year, compared with 43 in each of the previous two years.

Jo Hadley, Norfolk's TB nurse, said that though it may have seemed that TB has “suddenly arrived back in the country”, this was not the case.

“Over the past decade there has been a rise in figures nationally, and part of that is to do with travel and open borders, as some people move in from high-risk countries.

“But a lot of cases you see among our indigenous population are what we call latent cases becoming active. This is more common among the elderly, where people may have been infected years ago, even as children when TB was a common condition, but had never known.”

She said treatment was usually very successful, especially with early diagnosis, and that her team were always happy to receive calls from people with any concerns about TB.

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