London – New Infectious Disease Hot Spot?2 min read
The esteemed British medical journal, the Lancet, reported this week that the incidence of tuberculosis in London had risen 50% in the last decade. Unlike neighboring countries, and the rest of the Western world, where tuberculosis has been on the decline for dozens of years, London saw a jump from 2,309 cases in 1999 to 3,450 in 2009. Most tuberculosis cases in Great Britain appear in people born overseas, although not
in recent arrivals. About 85 percent of people with tuberculosis have been in Britain for at least two years, meaning the disease is not being imported, but circulating locally. In separate reports, the H1N1 virus, or the so called “swine flu” also saw a big jump in the number of London cases over the past month. The Health Protection Agency released a report that London had experienced 10 deaths from the swine flu in the last six weeks. In addition, dozens of patients have been admitted to intensive care units in hospitals throughout London with severe respiratory problems related to infection with the H1N1 virus. Professor John Watson, the HPA’s head of respiratory disease, said he was “surprised” at the rapid spread of the virus, adding “It is more than I would have expected.” Britain is one of the world’s biggest foreign aid donors, with considerable investments in projects fighting tuberculosis and swine flu in poor countries. “We need to clean up our own back garden first,” says Alimuddin Zumla of University College, calling for new strategies and more money to reverse the recent London jump. “Charity begins at home,” he added. Should tourists avoid London? Most public health officials would say “no”, citing the fact that the number of cases thus far is not impressive, despite their shock value. Nonetheless, travelers to developed countries should not abandon the universal precautions, such as frequent hand washing, avoiding large crowds and covering one’s mouth when coughing, that are observed with more vigilance in areas endemic for exotic infectious diseases. Photo by emiana.