Early diagnosis crucial to tackling TB

Early diagnosis crucial to tackling TB

On World TB Day (Friday 24 March), the Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding everyone of the importance of preventing transmission of tuberculosis and how to recognise its symptoms early.

Dr Michael Devine, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “TB remains an important global and local public health issue. People may think of TB as a disease of the past but there are more than 10 million new cases of TB globally each year with more than one million deaths, mostly in developing countries.

“With effective treatment, TB can be a curable disease and World TB Day is an opportunity to raise public awareness to reduce transmission of TB by encouraging early diagnosis and treatment.

“We must not become complacent and with new drug-resistant types of TB evolving it is essential that we maintain vigilance and know what to look out for.”

Figures from the PHA shows that there were 85 cases reported in 2016 compared with 62 confirmed cases in 2015. In 2014 there were 95 confirmed cases and 74 in 2013.

Dr Devine continued: “TB is not easily spread; close and prolonged contact is required for someone to even be at risk of being infected. Because of this, the greatest risk is to people who live in the same household.

"Cases of TB here vary year-to-year, which shows there is a critical need to continue to remind everyone of the importance of early diagnosis and specialist treatment to control this serious disease. Increased awareness, particularly among groups at high risk, as well as health professionals, is central to this.

“Everyone should be aware of the symptoms of TB, which include a prolonged cough, fevers and unexplained weight loss. If anyone is concerned about their symptoms they should contact their GP. Greater awareness can mean the condition is diagnosed and treated much earlier.”

Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB:

  • Fever and night sweats
  • Persistent cough
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time.

Dr Devine added: “TB is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs, but can impact on other parts of the body. It is spread from person to person when someone who has TB of the lungs coughs or sneezes. Only some people with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people and even then, close and prolonged contact is needed to be at risk of being infected.”

Both health professionals and the general public should be aware of the following key facts about TB:

  • TB can be fatal if not treated
  • TB is usually curable with a six-month course of antibiotics which must be completed
  • Not completing the full course can encourage drug resistance
  • TB disease develops slowly in the body over a period of several months
  • Symptoms are: fever and night sweats, persistent cough, weight loss, blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time, a lack of appetite, fatigue and a general sense of feeling unwell 
  • The infection requires prolonged and close contact in order to spread from person to person
  • Under half of cases in the UK have the infectious form of the disease 
  • Most cases present little or no risk to others
  • It is very uncommon to catch TB from a child with the disease
  • TB treatment is free for the patient in Northern Ireland.


Notes to editors:

  • In 2016, there were 85 cases reported to the Public Health Agency (a rate of 4.6 cases per 100,000 population). This is a provisional figure and subject to change as some cases may become denotified, resulting in confirmed cases for the year being lower.
  • In 2015, there were 62 confirmed cases of TB in Northern Ireland (a rate of 3.4 cases per 100,000 population).
  • In 2014, there were 95 confirmed cases (5.2 per 100,000).
  • In 2013, there were 74 confirmed cases (4 per 100,000).