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The Return of Tuberculosis - Cases Rise in North West England

Finding key stories of interest to the public hidden away in Government data.


About Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection, usually of the lungs, spread through inhaling tiny droplets when an infected person coughs, spits, talks or sneezes. Symptoms usually include chest pain and a prolonged cough. Treatment requires the patient taking a long course of antibiotics.

TB has been found in ancient human remains

TB has been found in ancient human remains

History of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis has been around for thousands, if not millions of years. There are many recorded cases in the literature of ancient human remains testing positive for TB. For example, TB was found in a mother and baby buried side by side nine thousand years ago in a city which is now, unfortunately, submerged under the Mediterranean Sea. Five people buried under the floor of a house in Syria in Stone Age times have also subsequently been found to have suffered from TB. Spinal tuberculosis has been detected in an Egyptian mummy on display in the British Museum dating as far back as 2500 BC.

Tuberculosis reached its peak in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Known at the time as ‘consumption’ because of the weight loss associated with having the disease, TB caused one in every four deaths in the population. By the 1950s, the disease started to become less of a threat to the population due to improved sanitation, vaccination and the emergence of antibiotics.

UKHSA is responsible for public health protection

UKHSA is responsible for public health protection

UK Health Security Agency

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care. UKHSA is responsible for public health protection in England - replacing Public Health England. As part of this remit, UKHSA collects data and publishes statistics on infectious diseases including tuberculosis.

Number of TB Cases in NW England by Quarter


TB Cases Rise in NW England in the Latest Quarter

UKHSA published annual statistics show that cases in England had been declining over the last decade prior to the Covid outbreak. In 2020, 455 tuberculosis cases were reported in North West England, a rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population.

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UKHSA also publishes quarterly statistics. The number of TB cases in the population is affected by the season of the year. Therefore, to compare quarterly numbers of cases, the most recent quarter is compared to the same quarter in the previous year rather than to the previous quarter.

The latest data for Quarter 2 (Q2) in 2022, shows that there were 135 tuberculosis cases in the North West of England. This is a statistically significant 10.7% increase on the North West TB cases in Q2 2021. In all other regions of England there was either a fall in cases or no change during Q2 2022 compared to Q2 2021.

Proportion of People Starting TB Treatment Within 4 Months by Quarter


TB Treatment is Slower in NW England in the Latest Quarter

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has launched a 5-year action plan to improve the prevention, detection and control of TB in England. This action plan includes a target for 80% of people with TB starting their treatment within 4 months of the onset of symptoms.

Treatment delay is the time between the date that tuberculosis symptoms start and the date that treatment begins. This reflects either delays in patients seeking healthcare or delays in diagnosis after patients seek medical advice, or both. Longer treatment delays may increase transmission within communities and thus lead to potential higher numbers of infections.

The latest UKHSA data for Q2 2022 shows that the proportion of people in North West England starting treatment for TB within 4 months of the onset of symptoms is significantly lower than in Q2 2021 by around 20 percentage points. The proportion in the South West and South East regions are also significantly lower in Q2 2022 when compared to Q2 2021. All English regions fell short of the National target of 80% of people with TB starting their treatment within 4 months of the onset of symptoms.

Next Data Update

The next quarterly statistics on tuberculosis cases in England will be published on the website at the end of October 2022. This blog will be updated to include findings from this data.

The charts and data presented here are used under the Open Government Licence (OGL) v3.0. OGL allows information to be re-used free of charge in any format or medium.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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