The number of drug resistant cases of TB continues to rise with 431 reports in 2011, up from 342 in 2010 – an increase of 26 per cent. Overall, 8,963 new cases of TB were reported to the Health protection Agency (HPA) in 2011, up from 8,410 cases in 2010. Although this represents an increase in new cases, it is within the range reported to the HPA in recent years.

The data is being published in the HPA’s annual TB report today (Thursday) and is also being presented at a meeting of the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, which is being co-hosted by HPA at Imperial College London this week (4-6 July).

Drug resistant TB, when a patient fails to respond to one of the four main antibiotics used to treat the infection, accounted for 8.4 per cent of laboratory confirmed TB cases in 2011 (431 out of 5,127*).

Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the HPA said: “Although we are disappointed that there has been an increase in new TB diagnoses in the past year, we are pleased that TB cases overall have been stabilising since 2005 with around 8,500-9,000 new diagnoses each year. However, the increase in drug resistant cases remains a concern and a challenge to our efforts to control TB in the UK.”

Patients usually acquire drug resistant disease either as a result of spread of a drug resistant strain from another person or as a result of inappropriate or incomplete treatment. Treatment outcome data was available for 97 per cent of cases (8,171 patients) in 2010 and revealed that 84 per cent of patients completed their treatment, up from 78 per cent in 2001. 

Professor Abubakar, continued: “Failing to complete treatment is one of the key causes of drug resistance. Although we are seeing increases in both drug resistant and multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB), it’s very encouraging that the proportion of people who are completing their treatment is increasing.

“TB continues to disproportionately affect those in hard to reach and vulnerable groups, particularly migrants. In order to reduce TB cases in the future, it’s very important that health commissioners, especially in parts of the country with the highest rates of TB, prioritise the delivery of appropriate clinical and public health TB services.

“In addition, the HPA is recommending that local commissioners ensure they coordinate their TB control activities so that completion of treatment can be ensured wherever the patient is located. The message that not completing the full course of treatment can encourage drug resistance is an important one in light of today’s figures.”