Persistent cough ‘may be TB rather than Covid’ – and cases are on the rise

Cases of tuberculosis have risen and there are fears people wrongly self-diagnosing could be the cause (Picture: Getty)

UK health leaders fear cases of tuberculosis (TB) are slipping under the radar.

The potentially dangerous bacterial infection begins as a persistent cough, similar to many people’s experience of Covid-19.

Incidents of TB have been falling since 2019 but appear to be on the rise once again, fueling fears people may be dismissing the symptom as the coronavirus.

Now anyone with a cough is being warned not to assume their illness is definitely caused by Covid-19.

TB can be life-threatening, though most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

It is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.

While TB mainly affects the lungs, it can damage other parts of the body, including the abdomen, glands, bones and nervous system.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Commuters using the Bakerloo line at Oxford Circus mostly opt to wear face coverings on July 19, 2021 in London, United Kingdom.  As of 12:01 on Monday, July 19, England will drop most of its remaining Covid-19 social restrictions, such as those requiring indoor mask-wearing and limits on group gatherings, among other rules.  These changes come despite rising infections, pitting the country's vaccination program against the virus's more contagious Delta variant.  (Photo by Martin Pope / Getty Images)

Measures like mask-wearing on the tube have been scrapped and Covid-19 cases are also on the rise (Picture: Getty)

People are at a higher risk of catching TB if they are in close contact with a person known to have the disease.

The at-risk groups also includes people who migrate from countries with high rates of TB, are homeless, addicted to drugs, have a weakened immune system, or are in prison.

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the decline in TB up to 2019 appears to have reversed, with cases increasing by 2.4% in England – from 4,615 in 2018 to 4,725 in 2019.

While TB cases fell in 2020, most likely due to people staying away from the NHS during the pandemic, suggestions are that infections rose by more than 7% in 2021.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said: ‘TB is curable and preventable and now is the time to get our elimination efforts back on track.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, London.  Picture date: Monday January 25, 2021.

Dr Jenny Harries has sent a public warning about the threat of TB after data revealed a spike in cases (Picture: PA)

‘Despite significant progress towards elimination in recent years, tuberculosis remains a serious public health issue in the UK.

‘With treatment, most people will make a full recovery, but delayed diagnosis and treatment, particularly during the pandemic, will have increased the number of undetected TB cases in the country.

‘It is important to remember that not every persistent cough, along with a 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 TB.

‘Tuberculosis develops slowly, and it may take several weeks, months or even years after you were infected before you notice you’re unwell.

‘Contact your GP if you think you could be at risk so you can get tested and treated.’

Confirmed Covid-19 infections have risen sharply in recent weeks, likely fueled by the relaxation of social-distancing measures and scrapping of isolation laws.

Official figures shows the average seven-day rate was under 300 new infections over a seven day period by the end of February.

The most recent figure for March 19 shows that rate has almost trebled and is now up to 870 per 100,000.

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