A persistent cough and fever should not necessarily be dismissed as Covid as it could be another infectious disease such as tuberculosis (TB), a leading British doctor has warned.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the coronavirus pandemic could delay diagnosis and treatment, which means more undetected cases.
His warning comes after provisional data revealed that 4,430 cases of tuberculosis were recorded in England last year.
While Dr Laura Cleghorn, from the University of Dundee, warned there was a ‘pressing need’ to develop new treatments for the condition which some mistakenly see as a ‘disease of yesteryear’.
The bacterial infection is spread by inhaling tiny droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
Treatment for the disease has come a long way, but it is still a potentially serious condition that needs to be cured with antibiotics, according to the NHS website.
In 2020, deaths from tuberculosis worldwide ranked second after Covid, in terms of infectious diseases.
Dr Harries said the BBC: “It is important to remember that not all persistent coughs, as well as fever, are Covid-19.
“A cough that usually contains mucus and lasts longer than three weeks can be caused by a range of other problems, including tuberculosis.”
Meanwhile, activists fear the pandemic and conflict, including the war in Ukraine, has cut back crucial funding to stop the spread.
Today (Thursday March 24) is World Tuberculosis Day, with the charity Stop TB Partnership calling for a urgent and substantial increase in funding to fight tuberculosis to achieve the goal of ending the disease by 2030.
Dr Lucica Ditiu, the organization’s executive director, said: “ We simply cannot continue to sit idly by and watch people around the world fall ill and die from a preventable and treatable disease.
“Nor can we continue to accept what we have accepted for years – each year having less than 40% of the funding needs for the TB response.
“We are now facing a disastrous funding gap, bigger than we expected. We must not only step up our efforts to meet the targets set at the 2018 UNHLM TB, but the response to the tuberculosis must also recover from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Stop TB Partnership also warned that the invasion of Ukraine could have “devastating effects on health services”, including the war-torn country’s tuberculosis treatment programme.
The charity is urging all countries hosting refugees from Ukraine to put in place the right arrangements to treat those in need.
Last year, Ukraine treated 24,000 people with TB, including 5,000 with a drug-resistant form of the disease.
In Britain, the requirement for Ukrainians to take a pre-arrival TB test has been lifted for family regime visa holders – although such people receive medical care and testing from the from general practitioners.