Health officials have grown increasingly concerned by the pace with which the disease is developing resistance to conventional treatments.
TB is closely related to poverty, living in crowded conditions, and HIV infection. Indeed, HIV-infected individuals have been found to have 37 times higher risk of contracting tuberculosis compared to HIV-negative subjects.
Despite being a curable disease and the existence of a vaccine, it remains a serious challenge for public health officials, particularly in light of the increasing number of deaths and the emergence of drug-resistant cases.
TB is a vaccine-preventable illness against which millions of children have been protected thanks to the BCG vaccine but the disease has made a steady come-back in recent years.
However, BCG only protects against severe forms of tuberculosis in children but does not prevent the pulmonary infection, the principal source of bacillary spread in the community, according to medical experts This highlights the need for active research for improved tuberculosis vaccines.
Complacency about TB has led to a relatively low-key public response to the outbreak despite more than 80,000 cases were reported in the 53-nation region for which WHO Europe has responsibility.
The Organisation has launched a new plan to identify and treat TB more effectively, saying the human and economic costs of not containing the disease could be huge.
“TB is an old disease that never went away, and now it is evolving with a vengeance,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s Regional Director for Europe.
Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of TB of Western European cities have also seen a steep rise in the number of new cases. London has the highest rate of any capital city in Western Europe with around 3,500 cases per year.