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Written on 22nd March 2018 by Susan Brown

World TB Day takes place on 24 March each year to commemorate Dr Robert Koch’s discovery in 1882 of the TB bacillus, the cause of tuberculosis. At that time, TB accounted for the deaths of one in every seven people. His life-changing discovery ultimately led to a cure for the one world’s most prevalent infectious diseases.

125 years later, TB is still killing 1.5 million people worldwide each year. World Health Organisation figures for 2016 reported that 10.4 million were known to have TB, with 1.8 million deaths from the disease. Despite some improvement in recent years, tuberculosis is still the world’s number one infectious killer, leading to more than 4500 deaths each day, a problem that is now compounded by the emergence of new multidrug-resistant strains of TB.

On World TB Day it’s worth remembering that, despite these alarming statistics, 53 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2016. TB is treatable for most people with a six-month course of antimicrobial drugs, but early diagnosis and correct treatment is key.

The theme of this year’s World TB Day is ‘Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free world’ and is linked to a World Health strategy known as ‘End TB’. The strategy arose from the World Health Assembly in May 2014 which called upon governments worldwide to commit to ending the TB epidemic by 2030. The strategy was adopted by the Collaborative TB Strategy for England 2015-2020 with the aim of reducing England’s year-on-year incidence of TB.

England has one of the highest TB rates in Western Europe. According to Public Health England, in 2016 there were 5,664 notified TB cases in England – that’s more than 10 people per 100,000 of the population. The rate of decline in the numbers of cases since 2012 reduced from 10% to 1% a year. Meanwhile, delays between onset of symptoms and start of treatment rose with 31% of pulmonary TB patients experiencing delays in treatment of more than four months.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which usually affects the lungs but can also infect other areas of the body. It’s spread when the infected person coughs, sneezes or spits and someone else inhales the drops of infected fluid from the air.

When a healthy person is infected by TB bacteria their body’s immune system can often deal with the disease and the TB bacteria remain in the body without causing symptoms or infecting others. This is known as latent TB, a condition thought to affect around a quarter of the entire world’s population.

Once infected there is a 5-15% lifetime risk of becoming ill with TB. That risk increases in those with weakened immune systems, such as smokers, alcohol drinkers, or those with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes. Anyone can contract TB, although the disease is usually found in adults of working age and is most prevalent amongst people living in poverty with malnutrition, poor housing and sanitation, which means that over 95% of TB cases and TB -related deaths occur in developing countries.

Initially the symptoms of active TB, such as cough with sputum and blood, chest pains, fever, night sweats, or weight loss, can be mild, leading to delays in diagnosis and increasing the risk of others being infected.  

However, as World TB Day reminds us, TB is usually treatable, curable and preventable. Awareness, early diagnosis and treatment are key.

Boyes Turner’s clinical negligence team are currently acting in several cases of serious disability and devastating injury arising from delayed diagnosis and treatment of TB.

If you or a member of your family having suffered severe injury as a result of delayed treatment for tuberculosis or other infectious disease, contact us on 01118 952 7219 or email