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Publication on Tuberculosis Welcomed

Media Release

13 October 2006

Ministry of Health Welcomes Latest NZ Medical Journal Publication on Tuberculosis

The Ministry of Health welcomes the publication of papers and an editorial in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal that recognise the ongoing impact of TB disease in New Zealand in the past and in the foreseeable future.

Two reports have been published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal 'Tuberculosis epidemiology in New Zealand 1995 - 2004' and ' Why the tuberculosis incidence rate is not falling in New Zealand' and an editorial 'Tuberculosis in New Zealand: Poverty casts a long shadow."

Senior Advisor of Public Health Medicine Dr Andrea Forde says, "we hope these publications will serve to remind everybody, not just GPs and clinicians, that tuberculosis is still a problem for New Zealanders."

"We have known for many years that some ethnic groups and people in lower socioeconomic areas have higher rates of TB than others."

Dr Forde says New Zealand's surveillance and contact tracing of TB has always been good. The number of deaths from TB in New Zealand has declined, but we still have people becoming sick with the disease as the " 'sleeping' or latent bacteria in their bodies wake up".

Dr Forde says that one third of the world's population carry the TB bacteria in their bodies, but that most of these people will never become sick.

The recent outbreak at Palmerston North Boys High and possible outbreak at Canterbury University have reminded us of the importance of TB disease. Having the media spotlight on TB will remind everybody - doctors and their patients - that we still have TB disease in the community, although we know that the incidence is lower than that of the United Kingdom and many other countries.

"Last year, of the 344 cases of TB in this country, 225 were from people born overseas. The Department of Immigration last year made changes to the way immigrants are screened for TB, but the publications in the Medical Journal state that the effects of the changes to the policy are yet to be seen."

"The World Health Organisation will publish on Saturday, a Weekly Epidemiological Report on extensively drug resistant TB. The WHO has already released The Global Plan To Stop TB 2006 - 2015 which aims to have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of TB by 2015 and have a new vaccine by 2015 as well", says Dr Forde.


Question and Answer Fact Sheet

1. How many cases of tuberculosis there been over the past few years?

In 2003, there were 418 notifiable cases of tuberculosis, 372 in 2004 and 344 in 2005. There has been 169 notifiable cases of TB between January and July 2006.

2. Of the 344 cases last year, which ethnicities were represented in the statistics?

ESR data shows that 225 of the 344 people were born overseas. Forty six of the cases were of Pacific ethnicity and 45 of Maori descent. Once hundred and ninety one of the cases were of Pakeha or Other ethnicity.

3. How many people died from TB last year?

ESRs tuberculosis annual surveillance report for 2005 shows there were four deaths caused by TB last year.

4. Does the Ministry of Health want to bring back a universal vaccine for TB?

The Ministry stopped immunising in the South Island in 1963 and phased the BCG vaccine out in the North Island by 1990. The vaccine only works for some people, some of the time. It is not a good vaccine for everyone. Evidence and research shows it is not a good idea to restart a national vaccination programme using the current vaccine available. We do know it protects babies, and very young children from the serious types of TB disease, but it doesn't protect teenagers and adults.

5. Does the Ministry fund the TB vaccine for babies now?

Yes. The National Immunisation Handbook 2006 states that vaccination against tuberculosis is offered to babies at risk of TB if -

- They live in a house with either current TB or past history of TB
- They have household members who within the past 5 years have lived for a period of 6 months or longer in countries where TB is common
- One or both parents identify as being Pacific people
- In their first 5 years they will be living for 3 months or more in a country where TB is common
- Live in a geographical area as defined by the medical officer of health after consultation with the Ministry of Health


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