UK Faces Rise In Tuberculosis, Other Victorian Era Diseases: Why These Diseases Are Back
Diseases that ravaged countries in the past were long considered phased out especially in developed countries. In the United Kingdom, tuberculosis and other Victorian Era diseases like cholera, scurvy, cholera, whooping cough, and scarlet fever made an alarming comeback.
In the last five years, scarlet fever cases jumped to 136 percent, cholera by 300 percent and scurvy by 38 percent. Tuberculosis (TB) cases decreased in recent years but are still surprisingly high.
Tuberculosis is a highly contagious airborne bacterial infection that causes serious health problems especially when not treated early.
Cases Of Tuberculosis Decreased In Recent Years But Remained High Compared To Other Countries
More than 2 billion people are estimated to be infected with TB during their lifetime, and each year 1.5 million people die of this disease. In 2014, a total of 9.6 million people around the world became sick with TB infection. Around 3 million people are not diagnosed, treated or officially registered by national TB programs.
In the UK, some communities incurred higher TB rates than almost anywhere else in the world. Approximately 113 per 100,000 people got infected and that is higher than in countries such as Rwanda, Guatemala, and Iraq.
In 2014, 6,520 TB cases were recorded wherein 39 percent of the cases were from London. An estimated 72 percent of these cases were found among non-UK born individuals. Most of these individuals were from India, Pakistan, and Somalia.
People in deprived communities have higher TB rates, approximately seven times higher than people living in least deprived areas.
"We think TB is a disease of developing countries or of days gone by, but TB is a disease of today. It certainly was a disease of yesterday, and we need to make sure that it isn't a disease of tomorrow," said Dr. Onkar Sarhota, chair of London's Health Committee.
The scenario in the United States is not far from what experts saw in the UK. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. had a total of 9,421 TB cases in 2014. This represents a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of TB cases reported and a 2.2 percent decrease in case rates compared to the 2013 data.
Despite the number of cases decreasing in the U.S., the White House released a plan to contribute to the battle against TB specifically the multidrug-resistant strains in the next five years.
"Today, the White House released a comprehensive plan that identifies critical actions to be taken by key Federal departments and agencies to combat the global rise of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)," said the White House.
"The National Action Plan identifies a set of targeted interventions that address the core domestic and global challenges posed by MDR-TB and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB)," it added.
Other Diseases In The 19th And 20th Century Making A Comeback
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by group A streptococcus infection. Though it is treatable by antibiotics, it needs immediate treatment to prevent rare but serious long-term health problems. People with scarlet fever usually manifest sore throat, red rash, and fever.
"There has been a huge rise in scarlet fever -- 14,000 [suspected] cases in the last year, the highest since the 1960s," said Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, a London immunologist.
Whooping cough cases increased in the recent years too. Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Its hallmark is an uncontrollable and violent coughing, which makes it hard for the person to breathe. Usually, someone with this infection would cough uncontrollably then takes a deep breath resulting in a "whooping" sound.
It can affect people of any ages but could be fatal if it infects infants younger than 1-year-old. A vaccine is widely used in babies but needs three doses spanning from birth to 1 year of age.
Dr. Martinez-Alier added that there is a rise in the cases of whooping cough in the last 10 years. Scurvy and cholera cases increased but overall cases were considered small.
Why are they back?
One major factor that contributed to the emergence of these diseases is poverty.
"Homelessness is a risk factor for TB, but it is also a risk factor for failure to treat and cure TB leading to an increase in suffering and expense, reduced accessibility to services, and a higher risk of community transmission," said the Public Health England.
Other factors are malnutrition and lack of access to health care. Poverty is a major risk factor to malnutrition. In England, malnutrition increased by 51 percent in the last five years.
"We are seeing a reduced vaccine uptake, for example with measles; reduced population immunity, for example with whooping cough; increased poverty and more people on the poverty line," Dr. Martinez-Alier said.
According to Public Health England's 2015 Annual Tuberculosis Update, the country deals with a lot of programs to curb growing TB cases. It launched [pdf] the Collaborative TB Strategy for England 2015-2020, a strategy developed to support and strengthen local services to deal with TB and provide national support for local action.
Photo: Yale Rosen | Flickr