TB or not TB, that is the question

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A campaign has launched to screen eligible people living in the Sandwell and West Birmingham area who may be carrying TB (tuberculosis) without them knowing it.

At particular risk are people aged 16-35 from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent who were either born there, or have lived there for more than six months in the last five years.

In order to try and identify those who might be at risk, and reassure those who are not, NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group has developed a survey which will help people discover whether they should consider being screened by their GP.

The survey can be found here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/latenttb

In total there are 70 at risk countries, including include Thailand, India and the Philippines, where people are at increased risk of having the TB bacteria ‘sleeping’ inside them, otherwise known as latent TB.

The 70 countries' flags that are at risk

Latent TB has no symptoms and can remain dormant for years in someone’s lungs without them knowing that they have the bacteria. The bacteria remain inactive and non-infectious, until triggered. Triggering effects can include dramatic lifestyle changes or other illnesses that can weaken the immune system. Once active, TB becomes contagious and, if left untreated, can cause death.

Latent TB can be tested for by using a blood test, and screening is specially advised for people who were born in or have lived in one of the 70 at risk countries for more than six months in the last 5 years. The blood test can be taken at a local GP practice and if tested positive for latent TB, the patient can be cured with a course of antibiotics. It is important to remember that if the patient receives a negative test result, the bacteria can still enter the body in the future.

Prof Nick Harding, Chair of Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG, says:

“Firstly I’d like to reassure people that this is a small part of our population, but important to identify, and where necessary, to get them screened. The first step for anyone would be to take the quick survey. In the last week we’ve had 500 people complete the survey, and of these only nine are eligible to be screened.

“Sandwell and West Birmingham has a growing migrant population who may be at risk from active TB in the future. Screening for latent TB is a way that we can prevent and reduce the risk of our population getting ill.”

“Screening for latent TB is easy, and can be done at the patient’s local GP practice. We encourage all people within the age range of 16-35 who were born in or have lived in one of the 70 at risk countries for longer than six months in the last five years, to book an appointment with their GP now.”