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On the 26th September 2018, the UN held a General Assembly on tuberculosis (TB) to discuss measures to end the spread of this disease.  It is hoped that this meeting will lead to increased research into the condition, which, experts warn, may now be becoming drug-resistant.  Following the meeting, the UK has already pledged increased funding towards development of new treatments.

Claire Campbell, SolicitorTB is the most deadly infectious disease in the world and kills almost two million people a year.  It is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis germ, and although it can affect any part of the body, it most commonly affects the lungs. Symptoms of the disease include cough, weight loss, fatigue, night swears and fever, and if the condition can cause permanent scarring of the lungs.  The condition is transmitted through the air and can be caught from exposure to infected people sneezing or coughing.

Although TB may be a condition that is more associated with distant countries, it is still prevalent here with about 465 cases reported per year in Scotland. TB is reported as the underlying cause of death in about 40 people per year.   Experts state the reason TB may be so under recognised is the fact it is associated with poverty as more than 95% of deaths from TB are in low and middle income countries.    There has been a dramatic increase in TB in other parts of the world, which has caused it to be declared a global emergency by WHO.

In Scotland, the condition is more likely to affect those with weakened immune systems, people in urban areas or those who are homeless or living in overcrowded and poorly ventilated conditions.

The condition can be prevented by the BCG (Bacille Calmette Guerin) vaccination, however this is not compulsory and is usually only offered to babies who are more likely than the general population to come into contact with TB.

People working in certain occupations can be at increased risk of developing TB.   In particular, health care workers, prison officers and those working with offenders or the homeless community can be especially vulnerable.  Employers in these areas must take steps to protect their workers – such as offering the BCG vaccination, carrying out adequate risk assessments, and providing training on the signs and symptoms to look out for.  Where infection does take place, screening must be carried out of anyone who has been in close contact with the infected person. If employers fail in these duties, any infected employees may be entitled to compensation.

Blog by Claire Campbell, Solicitor

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