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World TB Day A Reminder That TB Still Exists

Saturday March 24

World TB Day Is A Reminder That The Disease Still Exists

World TB day, a day in which the world-wide fight against tuberculosis is highlighted, is a timely reminder that people must not be complacent about the world's leading infectious disease, Ministry of Health, Senior Public Health Advisor, Dr Doug Lush said today.

"Worldwide there are 8 million new cases of tuberculosis reported each year, resulting in 1.9 million deaths annually."

"In New Zealand last year there were 357 cases of tuberculosis, a rate of 10 cases per hundred thousand in the New Zealand population."

Tuberculosis is a notifiable disease and medical practitioners are required to notify the nearest Medical Officer of Health when a case is suspected.

In most cases, tuberculosis affects the lungs. A classic symptom of the disease is a persistent cough. Anyone who has had a cough for more than two weeks should see their doctor, particularly if they have been in contact with someone who has tuberculosis. Weight loss and night sweats are also common symptoms.

"This is an infectious disease that is passed on by inhaling infected droplets that have been exhaled by someone with tuberculosis. Crowded living conditions and poor nutrition also increase the risk of tuberculosis."

Dr Lush said anyone showing symptoms of this disease should seek medical attention.

"Tuberculosis is easily treated, and if diagnosed early, most cases will recover completely. "

Treatment for tuberculosis involves specific antibiotics. The Ministry of Health's Guidelines for Tuberculosis Control in New Zealand 1996 promotes Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) as a key strategy. DOT involves an appropriate supervisor overseeing the patient swallowing the tablets. Internationally, DOTS is considered one of the most cost-effective of all tuberculosis interventions.

"These are positive steps which have been taken to control tuberculosis, but the key factor is early detection of cases. People need to be aware of the symptoms of tuberculosis and seek medical attention."


For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address:


What is World TB Day? World TB Day (24 March) commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced his discovery of the TB bacillus. Each year has a different global theme.

The global theme for this years World TB Day on 24 March is "Partnerships for TB Control in the Western Pacific." In 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared tuberculosis a global emergency. See the WHO website for more information -

New Zealand is in the WHO's Western Pacific Region (WPR) which last year declared a tuberculosis crisis. The regional theme is "Stop TB - Crisis in the Western Pacific Region". See the WHO WPR website for the regional press release -

How is tuberculosis caused? Human tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Mycobacterium bovis.

How is it spread? TB is spread by breathing in infected droplets that have been exhaled by someone with TB.

What are the symptoms? When a person has tuberculosis they may lose weight, feel tired, sweat a lot at night, and cough regularly for more than two weeks often with thick phlegm, sometimes bloody.

What is the normal course of the disease? The most common site of tuberculosis infection is the lung. There is usually a positive tuberculin test associated with disease and infection. The disease can progress at different rates. All cases can be cured with specific antibiotic treatment. If cases are not treated half will die from the disease. Some cases progress rapidly while other progress slowly.

How is tuberculosis treated? Treatment is a combination of at least three antibiotics for a period of at least six months.

Is there any problem with drug resistance? There are growing concerns about the increase in multi-drug resistant tuberculosis world-wide which is both difficult and expensive to treat. This is not a great concern in New Zealand at present but is a reminder of the importance of completing the required course of antibiotic treatment.

How many cases of tuberculosis have been reported recently in New Zealand? The rate of tuberculosis in New Zealand has risen over the last three years. There were 357 cases last year, 452 cases in 1999, 368 in 1998 and 330 in 1997.

How many people have died recently from tuberculosis in New Zealand? There were nine deaths from tuberculosis in New Zealand in 2000, 10 in 1999, eight in 1998 and 15 in 1997. Tuberculosis is normally treatable, these deaths may have been in people who did not benefit from treatment.

What does the health service do to control tuberculosis? The New Zealand tuberculosis control programme evolved from the enactment of the Tuberculosis Act 1948. Under this Act, the Medical Officer of Health in the regional public health service is given wide powers for the investigation and control of all tuberculosis cases and their contacts, including detention for treatment, if necessary.

Control of tuberculosis in New Zealand depends on effective detection, completed treatment, and vigorous contact tracing often involving extensive checks in families and communities. This ensures that people who have come into contact with someone who has tuberculosis can be offered preventive treatment or be regularly examined to ensure early detection of disease.

Close co-operation between health staff and patient is essential, and it is important that the course of antibiotics be completed to cure the patient and avoid drug resistance. Observing a patient taking medication is considered by WHO to be the most effective strategy against tuberculosis and is known as Directly Observed Therapy Short-course (DOTS).

Ongoing work to control tuberculosis includes: Early case detection BCG vaccination to infants at risk Treating the cases to ensure a cure Contact tracing and the provision of preventive treatment Education of health staff Education of the public to the signs and symptoms of tuberculosis and need to seek medical attention Provision of laboratory services Appropriate guidelines for at-risk occupational groups Appropriate screening of new immigrants to New Zealand.

Tuberculosis is easily treated and, if diagnosed early, the majority of cases have good outcomes.

Tuberculosis is a notifiable disease under the Tuberculosis Act 1948.


Selina Gentry Media Liaison Communications Corporate & Information Directorate Ministry of Health DDI: 04 496 2483

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