Tuberculosis is now a threat to the UK say experts as it overtakes Covid-19 as the world’s most deadly infectious disease.
British Professor Robert Wilkinson is leading a global call to find a one-shot vaccine with research institutions in the US, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Ivory Coast.
The NHS stopped offering the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) to all children in 2005, instead targeting only children who may travel to badly-affected countries, the Mirror reports.
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However, immunity does not last past the teenage years.
The US employs a similar approach with the BCG, but is on track to eradicate the bug due to heavy investment and contact tracing during outbreaks.
Professor Wilkinson said: “It’s inevitable TB will be the most deadly infectious disease in the world again.
“The proportion of resistant TB is gradually increasing everywhere and that is a problem in Europe too.
“We should ensure that all legal and illegal arrivals to the UK have access to health care and, if necessary, screening and early treatment.
“Even if they are detained for illegal arrival, they have a right to care and it is advantageous for the UK to provide that.”
TB cases imported into England have started to increase after a decade-long decline.
The World Health Organisation put annual TB deaths at 1.6 million during 2021, with 2022 figures expected to be higher.
Our World in Data, based at Oxford University, puts Covid-19 deaths in 2022 at around 1.2m.
Prof Wilkinson added: “Most people, if you told them TB deaths were of a similar order of magnitude as Covid, they would not believe you.
“There aren’t enough resources compared to Covid.
“It’s a drop in the ocean.”
Latest data shows a TB rate of 7.8 cases per 100,000 in England in 2021.
This compared to 4.7 in Germany and 2.4 in the US.
Dr Meera Chand, of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “We are working with the NHS to strengthen prevention, detection and treatment.”
History and symptoms TB has been around for 9,000 years and from 1600 to 1800 in Europe caused 25% of all deaths.
It is still killing one person every 20 seconds globally.
TB most often affects the lungs and is caused by a type of bacteria.
It spreads through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or spit.
Symptoms include a prolonged cough sometimes with blood, chest pain, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
In rare but severe cases where the infection goes to the brain it can cause severe headaches, irritability and whole body pain.
Children are at higher risk from TB as are smokers and people with weakened immune systems and diabetes.
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