Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the Covid pandemic may have resulted in a delay to diagnosis and treatment for TB – which appears to be on the rise
A persistent cough and fever should not necessarily be dismissed as Covid as it could be another infectious disease like tuberculosis (TB), a top UK doctor has warned.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the coronavirus pandemic could delay diagnosis and treatment, meaning more undetected cases.
Her warning comes after provisional data revealed 4,430 cases of TB were recorded in England last year.
While Dr Laura Cleghorn, of the University of Dundee warned there is a “pressing need” to develop new treatments for the illness which some wrongly think of as a “disease of yesteryear”.
The bacterial infection is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
Treatment for the illness has come a long way but it is still a potentially serious condition which needs to be cured using antibiotics, according to the NHS website.
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In 2020, worldwide deaths due to TB ranked second only to Covid, in terms of infectious disease.
Dr Harries told the BBC: “It is important to remember not every persistent cough, along with fever, is Covid-19.
“A cough that usually has mucus and lasts longer than three weeks can be caused by a range of other issues, including tuberculosis.”
Meanwhile, campaigners fear the pandemic and conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, have set back crucial funding to halt the spread.
Today (Thursday, March 24) is World Tuberculosis Day, with charity the Stop TB Partnership calling for an urgent and substantial increase of funding to fight TB in order to meet the goal of ending the disease by 2030.
Dr Lucica Ditiu, the organization’s executive director, said: “ We simply cannot continue to stand on the sidelines and watch while people around the world fall ill and die from a preventable and treatable disease.
“We also cannot continue to accept what we accepted for years – every year having less than 40% of the funding need for the TB response.
“Now we are facing a disastrous funding shortfall, bigger than what we had expected. We not only need to step up efforts to meet targets set at the 2018 UNHLM on TB, but the TB response must also recover from the devastating impacts of the Covid -19 pandemic. “
The Stop TB Partnership also warned the Ukraine invasion could have “devastating impacts on health services”, including the war-torn nation’s TB treatment program.
Press Association Images)
The charity is urging all countries taking Ukrainian refugees to put the correct provisions in place to treat those who need it.
Last year, Ukraine treated 24,000 people with TB including 5,000 with a drug-resistant form of the illness.
In Britain, a requirement for Ukrainians to take a TB test before arrival has been waived for those on the family scheme visa – though such people will get medical care and testing from GPs.