TB infection rate reaches highest level in 12 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 March, 1999, 12:00am

The tuberculosis infection rate hit its highest level in 12 years last year and is set to rise further with an ageing population, the Department of Health warned yesterday.

Speaking on World TB Day, acting Director of Health Dr Paul Saw Thian-aun said rates in Hong Kong were still relatively high.

'With an ageing population, there is a chance it will rise further,' he said.

Last year there were 7,673 cases reported. In 1987, there were 7,269 cases. The figure dropped steadily to 6,283 in 1991. With some fluctuations, it rose to 7,072 in 1997, while mortality rates fell.

Consultant at the department's Tuberculosis and Chest Service Dr Tam Cheuk-ming said improved medicine meant fewer people died from TB but there were now more long-term elderly sufferers.

'Our population is ageing and we have more people with chronic illness in the community such as diabetes and kidney disease or cancer. They receive certain treatment to prolong their life. However, their immunity is not so strong,' Dr Tam said.

Most TB cases could be treated successfully if medication were taken consistently for six months, but many patients failed to do this, Dr Tam said.

The department offers treatment in which the patient takes medication under observation.

In 1993, TB was the first infection to be declared a global health emergency.

World Vision said Asia was now home to 65 per cent of the world's TB cases. It is estimated 4.5 million of the eight million new cases each year occur in India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. India and China make up more than two-thirds of new cases.