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Tuberculosis still a real health threat

Tuberculosis still a real health threat

More than 400 people were diagnosed with tuberculosis in New Zealand last year, underlining the need to stay alert for the signs, symptoms and treatment of the disease the Ministry of Health says.

Dr Douglas Lush, Acting Director of Public Health, says New Zealand still averages about 400 cases of TB each year. Last year there were 418 cases.

"Many New Zealanders may be of the view that this disease is something for other countries to worry about, but it is still a health issue for us - and for many other countries," he said.

"The best way to prevent TB is to find, treat and cure people who have it. " People who have a cough for longer than two weeks, weight loss and night sweats should see their doctor - particularly if anyone else in their household has been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

"Tracing the contacts of people newly diagnosed with tuberculosis can identify further cases, as well as identifying people who have been infected, don't have TB but may develop it. These people can take medication to prevent them getting TB," Dr Lush said.

According to the World Health Organization, TB infects one third of the world's population. Each year 8 million new people develop active TB. Each one of those can, in turn, infect between 10 and 15 people in one year just by breathing.

This curable disease kills 2 million people yearly. Recently the Government announced it was strengthening TB screening for people from countries with a high rate of TB, and would extend screening to all those intending to stay in New Zealand for six months or more. At present only those intending to stay two years or more are screened.

From 1 April 2004 the six-month criterion will apply to foreign fee-paying students from relevant countries, and it will later this year extend to visitors and workers from relevant countries.

"Controlling TB control in the 21st century is a global challenge," Dr Lush said. "Internationally issues of poverty, adherence to treatment and stigma still prevail, while there is also increasing drug resistance and HIV co-infection."

Today is designated World TB day by the World Health Organization's (WHO), which continues to lead work to combat TB.


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