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Every Day One New Zealander Gets TB

Every Day One New Zealander Gets TB

New Zealanders are being urged today not to forget that this country sees an average of 400 cases of Tuberculosis each year, as the world marks 10 years since TB was declared a global emergency, said Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Doug Lush.

"A staggering third of the world's population - that's two billion people - are infected with the TB bacteria. Every day, more than 20 thousand people develop active TB and five thousand die from the disease. If left untreated, one person with active TB will infect on average between 10 and 15 people every year."

"And while this disease is very prevalent in poorer countries, it's important to acknowledge that New Zealand is not immune. Last year there were 381 cases of tuberculosis notified in New Zealand, and two people died."

"However if it's caught and treated early enough almost everyone recovers from the disease."

This year's theme focusses on the people with TB, and the DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course) method used to cure them. A standard DOTS regimen takes 6 to 8 months, and is one of the methods used in New Zealand.

Dr Lush, Senior Advisor (Communicable Diseases) said the guidelines for controlling TB in New Zealand had just been updated three months ago, providing the latest information for treating the disease.

"Since 1996, when the previous guidelines were produced by the Ministry of Health, an enormous amount of literature has been published on TB treatment and prevention."

"For example in recent years, one of the major problems in controlling TB has been the evolution of new strains that are resistant to some antibiotics. The World Health Organisation recognises that these new strains threaten efforts for worldwide control of the disease."

"The new material in the guidelines outlines procedures for DOTS, and where doses are missed the Medical Officer of Health is to be notified."

Other initiatives this year include a combined Ministry of Health and Department of Corrections trial screening for communicable diseases at Christchurch prison, including identifying and treating tuberculosis.

Dr Lush said tuberculosis affects the lungs in most cases, with a persistent cough the classic symptom of the disease. 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, as the disease is contagious. Weight loss and night sweats are also common symptoms.

There is a standard well established practice for tracing all contacts of a new tuberculosis case. Public Health Service staff identify all close and casual contacts of a case of tuberculosis by constructing a careful history. They then investigate potential 'at risk' contacts using a standard nationally approved protocol outlined in the 1996 guidelines.

"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," said Dr Lush.

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