Infections: Significant increase in tuberculosis cases

Science infections

Significant increase in tuberculosis cases

Babies are vaccinated against tuberculosis at a health station in Rukogo, a village near the city of Kayanza in northern Burundi, picture taken on September 23, 2013.  Photo: Tom Schulze

Tuberculosis vaccination in Burundi

Source: picture alliance / ZB

It is a treatable and preventable disease. Despite this, the number of people with tuberculosis is increasing worldwide. Experts are concerned. Because the number of those who do not react to the necessary antibiotic is also increasing.

Dhe corona pandemic has severely set back the fight against tuberculosis (TB). According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people who have contracted the disease has risen significantly in 2021 for the first time in years. The number has been around ten million a year for a long time, in 2021 it was 10.6 million, 4.5 percent more than the year before, according to the WHO in its writes the annual tuberculosis report. For comparison: In 2012 the number of infections was almost 5.8 million.

Of course, all health statistics are affected by the restrictions during the Corona pandemic. Among other things, fewer people went to the doctor because of lockdowns or fear of infection.

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Soumya Swaminathan

According to WHO statistics, 1.6 million people died from TB last year, after 1.5 million in 2020 and 1.4 million in 2019. The number of new cases per 100,000 population increased by 3.6 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, after it had fallen by about 2 percent almost every year for the past 20 years. The WHO fears that the Russian war against Ukraine and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East could exacerbate the situation.

tuberculosis is one of the most common infectious diseases. It is transmitted from person to person by inhaling infectious droplets. The bacteria usually get into the lungs, but can also infect other organs. It sometimes breaks out years after an infection, and about half of those infected die without treatment. But it is preventable and curable. It is worrying that the pathogens are increasingly developing resistance to the actually successful antibiotics.

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Group of white medical pills isolated on blue background

Last year, around 450,000 people were diagnosed with TB that did not respond to the common antibiotic, rifampicin. That was three percent more than the year before.

Chinese poster shows a female figure using a loudspeaker to raise awareness of tuberculosis, she encourages parents and children to visit their doctors to recieve the BCG vaccine (used to battle tuberculosis).  Dated c1920 (World History Archive)

Fighting TB: Chinese poster from 1920

Source: picture alliance / World History Archive

In the first year of the coronavirus (2020), the number of people diagnosed with TB had dropped significantly, presumably because of the limited visits to the clinic. That has improved, but the number is still below pre-pandemic levels, the WHO wrote. She concludes that more people are infected without knowing it and can infect others. The 30 countries with high incidences include Brazil, China, India and South Africa.

“If we work together, we can tuberculosis end,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The WHO calls for more investment in health programs and new vaccines.

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