A surge in one of the world’s most infectious diseases has left New York City health clinics struggling to cope, health workers have found.
According to the figures, the number of tuberculosis (TB) infections rose to 500 in the first nine months of this year, a 20 percent increase compared to the same period in 2022.
Data shared with US news site Politico suggests the city is on track to record the most tuberculosis cases in a year since 2013.
Experts fear the deadly medieval disease could be making a comeback, decades after the city brought infection rates under control.
Health officials had previously predicted a surge in cases after the Covid-19 pandemic hampered efforts to diagnose and treat cases.
However, Elizabeth Lovinger of the Treatment Action Group, which focuses on tuberculosis, said: “This is definitely a more dramatic resurgence than we probably expected.”
Tuberculosis is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Despite being a preventable and curable disease, 1.5 million people die from tuberculosis every year – making it the world’s leading cause of death from infection.
It usually affects the lungs and causes coughing, fever and fatigue.
However, it can spread to your brain, spinal cord, and area around your heart, causing more serious illness.
NY is struggling to cope
New York’s designated tuberculosis clinics are struggling to cope with the surge in patients as waiting lists for treatment grow worryingly long, three employees of the city’s Department of Health’s Office of Tuberculosis Control told the website.
New Yorkers with symptoms are being forced to wait up to a week for an appointment, the anonymous employees said.
According to the World Health Organization, early diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis is critical to preventing transmission of the disease to others in the community.
The long wait times are attributed to a combination of rising case numbers, underfunding and a lack of staff.
Tuberculosis is relatively rare in the United States, with cases peaking decades ago during the AIDS epidemic.
The disease is also currently on the rise in Europe.
In the WHO European Region, which covers 53 countries, 27,300 people died from tuberculosis in 2021, compared to 27,000 deaths in 2020.
The reason given for this increase was the disruption to treatment and diagnostic services caused by the Covid pandemic.
This is the first time in 20 years that the downward trend has been broken, WHO Europe said in a tuberculosis surveillance report.
To make matters worse, cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis also increased by three percent between 2020 and 2021, the report says.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, the number of infections in the UK rose to 2,408 in the first half of this year, compared to 2,251 last year.
It says infections are higher in urban and disadvantaged areas and homeless people are at higher risk.
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
The most common symptoms include:
- a cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks – you may cough up phlegm (phlegm) or phlegm with blood
- feeling tired or exhausted
- high temperature or night sweats
- Loss of appetite
- weight loss
- generally feeling unwell
If tuberculosis has spread to another part of your body, such as your glands (lymph nodes), bones, or brain, you may also experience other symptoms, including:
- swollen glands
- Body aches and pains
- swollen joints or ankles
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- dark or cloudy urine
- be sick
- be confused
- A stiff neck
- a rash on the legs, face, or other parts of the body
Source: The NHS