Tuberculosis cases reach record high
CASES of potentially deadly tuberculosis have soared to a record high in the Lothians, with an average of one new diagnosis every four days.
Health chiefs have revealed 86 new cases were detected in the area in 2009 – the highest since records began ten years ago.
Alcohol abuse – which can leave the body susceptible to TB – and more widespread travel to third world countries have been cited as two reasons for the increase.
Health Protection Scotland (HPS), the country's health agency, acknowledged that the rise was of concern.
It means a fifth of the country's TB infections occurred in the Lothians, with a rise of about 20 per cent in the last year.
Charities say the figures show TB's reputation of being "a disease of the past" is a dangerous one.
Mike Mandelbaum, chief executive of the charity TB Alert, said: "It never did go away and it's still a burden. A combination of drugs was discovered in the mid-1950s which could treat it, and we're still using them today. Perhaps that led to some complacency.
"It did reduce the number of people suffering from TB, but it didn't disappear.
"Anyone can catch it, but it is those with weak immune systems which can be caused by alcohol or drug abuse, or malnutrition, who are more likely to succumb to it."
Experts say there are three main reasons for someone to be struck by the illness: a weakened immune system caused by alcohol or drug abuse, substandard living conditions, and country of origin.
Given that, on the whole, living conditions have improved, it leaves the other two factors as main issues, particularly alcohol, with figures indicating a sustained rise in drinking across the area.
Late last year, health chiefs urged people living in the Lothians but who were from foreign countries where resilient forms of the disease are more common to sign up to a GP to reduce the chances of the disease spreading.
The age group most likely to be hit is the 25-34 bracket. Doctors said anyone who is treated promptly has an almost 100 per cent chance of survival.
Infectious disease consultant Dr Andrew Seaton said: "We have noticed an increase, but it hasn't reached unmanageable levels.
"Certainly there is a link between excess alcohol consumption and TB, and also immigration or imported TB. This isn't only in people moving here from abroad, but those who regularly travel to either Africa or south-east Asia."
HPS added that a hike in children under five across the country suggested ongoing transmission was still very much an issue, but pointed out the overall rate of the disease was well within World Health Organisation guidelines.
Brave journalist lost TB battle due to lack of early detection
EDINBURGH-born journalist Seonai Gordon twice contracted tuberculosis – and it took her life the second time round.
She passed away at the age of 47 last summer, but had it been detected earlier she may still be alive today.
When living in Glasgow in the late 1990s, she caught the disease, but was unsure if she contracted it there or on one of her many trips to Thailand.
When she moved out there to further her journalism career, a cough returned in 2005.
It turned out to be TB again after medics in Bangkok failed to recognise the symptoms, and her condition slowly worsened until she died in a Brighton hospice.
Ms Gordon – who had a teenage son named Ziyo – campaigned for TB awareness and wrote several articles on the illness as she battled it.
It is estimated about nine million new cases of TB occur around the world each year, with two million people dying.
It usually affects the lungs, but can exist in other parts of the body, and is an airborne disease, meaning a cough or a sneeze can easily transfer it.
It was a major headache for health chiefs until the mid-1950s, when Edinburgh University physician Sir John Crofton – who died recently at the age of 97 – developed a cure that is estimated to have saved ten million lives.
A drug-resistant strain did emerge years later, though UK scientists have stated they could be as little as ten years away from conquering that.
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