The 24th of March was ‘World TB Day’ which commemorates the date in 1882 when DR Robert Koch announced his discovery of ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ the bacteria that caused TB.

The theme this year ‘Yes! We can end TB’.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling small droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that at least 10 million people fall ill with TB and over 1 million die from the disease annually.

Typical symptoms include a chronic cough, fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss and fatigue.

TB is preventable and can be treated with a prolonged course of antibiotics. TB treatment in the UK is free for everyone.

TB is strongly associated with deprivation and is more common in large urban areas. People born outside the UK, especially in countries in South Asia, Africa and eastern Europe experience the highest number of cases. For those born in the UK, TB is more common among those who experience homelessness, substance misuse and have had contact with the criminal justice system.    

Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in it’s annual TB report show that cases in England in 2022 were stable compared to 2021 (4,380 in 2022 compared to 4,411 in 2021).However, additional provisional data indicates that cases of TB in England rose by 10.7% in 2023 compared to 2022(4,850 compared to 4,380). The rise signals a rebound of TB cases to above the pre COVID-19 pandemic numbers. UKHSA is investigating the reasons behind the increase in TB. 

While England remains a low incidence country for TB, the current trajectory takes the UK further away from meeting the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2035 elimination target. For more information on the latest situation with TB in England, and what is being done to drive down cases, click here. The UKHSA and NHS England joint 5 year action plan sets out steps to improve the prevention & detection of TB in England. Click here to view it.

Being aware of the disease and recognising the symptoms will ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment and help prevent the spread of TB.    

Useful resources