A tuberculosis scare in an East Midlands hospital has once again highlighted the fact that the rise in drug-resistant tuberculosis cases in the UK is linked to immigration.
Hundreds of patients at Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital, including people with cancer, have to be screened for TB after coming into contact with an immigrant worker with the disease.
A total of 458 patients and 69 members of staff who were in the haematology ward at the hospital's Heart and Lung Centre at the beginning of last week will receive letters informing them they may be at risk.
It will cost the hospital £30,000 to run the screening programme which will see samples sent to a specialist laboratory in Birmingham. It will be six or seven weeks before all results are known.
A report issued by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in May this year found that the rise in drug-resistant tuberculosis cases in the UK has been linked to immigration. In addition, the HPA found, the failure of these immigrants to properly follow the medical treatment courses has led to even more drug-resistant strains of TB than ever before.
The incidence of TB in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is rising, with more than 8,000 cases reported in 2006. Outside London there was a significant increase in drug-resistant TB, according to a recent report in the British Medical Journal.
The research team suggested this reflects the increasing number of patients with TB who are not born in the UK. Further research showed an increase in the number of cases in people from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
In London, the rise in TB drug resistant cases has been linked to an ongoing outbreak from 1999 that has involved more than 300 occurrences to date. The outbreak has been linked with imprisonment and drug abuse.
TB remains common in the Third World. It causes more deaths world-wide than any other infectious disease - about three million a year.
Spread of the disease in the Third World has been blamed on poor nutrition, poor housing and poor general health. In particular, many people infected with HIV are also vulnerable to TB.
In America, TB occurs most commonly among African Americans. Other minorities are also at higher risk. Currently about two-thirds of all TB cases in the United States affect African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and people from the Pacific Islands. Another one-fourth of cases in the United States affect people born outside the country.