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London ‘failing in battle against TB’ as Whittington Hospital leads eradication efforts

10:27 23 April 2014

Dr Richard Jennings, an infectious diseases consultant, is heading up a new Tuberculosis treatment centre at the Whittington Hospital

Dr Richard Jennings, an infectious diseases consultant, is heading up a new Tuberculosis treatment centre at the Whittington Hospital

Archant

The Whittington Hospital is to be on the front line of a new battle against the spread of Tuberculosis (TB) as London continues to suffer the highest rate of infection of any Western European capital.

A new £1million centre is scheduled to open this month at the hospital in Archway amidst warnings that the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease was still at “worryingly high” levels in London.

The capital reported more than 3,400 cases in 2012, representing 42 infections per 100,000 people – a rate way above the national average of 14 infections per 100,000 and those of many other developed cities.

While below the London average, Camden, Haringey, and Barnet all have rates more than double the 
national average.

A flurry of recent reports in the mainstream press reporting the transfer of TB from cats to humans in the UK has now led to claims that the disease is at risk of spiralling out of control. But experts insist that it is “neighbours rather than pets” that remain the biggest challenge.

Dr Richard Jennings, an infectious diseases consultant at The Whittington, said: “It’s infection between people that poses the biggest problem.

“The rate of TB in cats is, while interesting, extremely small and it’s not something I think people should be too concerned about.

“But what is worrying is that while the number of cases in London isn’t rising, it’s not falling either – it’s plateaued.

“Many infections originate outside the country, from areas like the Indian subcontinent and Africa, and treatment in London isn’t co-ordinated to deal with it.

“While other major cities like New York, Paris and Barcelona have made impressive reductions in the past few years, London hasn’t made that progress.

“And that’s despite having some of the world’s leading experts in TB.”

Dr Jennings says a new co-ordinated programme across north London will help rid the city of its current title as “TB capital of Europe”.

The state-of-the-art centre at The Whittington will offer a free walk-in service and a new team of specialists who will help diagnose and treat 
patients with TB quicker.

Staff will also work with another hub based at the North Middlesex University Hospital in Edmonton.

“The new Whittington hub will be one of the biggest TB centres in London, making at least 200 new diagnosis a year,” Dr Jennings explained.

“It will also focus on tracking down and testing those who have been in prolonged contact with TB sufferers to help minimise its spread.

“But we also need to get the message across for people to come and actively get themselves tested.

“If you’re suffering any of the symptoms, like having a cough for more than three weeks, then come and see us.”

While the spread of a new, drug-resistant strand of TB has raised alarm bells around the world, experts at The Whittington say most cases in the UK remain “highly treatable”.

Typical symptoms include a persistent cough of more than three weeks, weight loss, night sweats, high temperature, fatigue and loss of appetite.

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