A sudden rise in new tuberculosis cases has sparked fears among experts of a resurgence of the killer disease. The rate of increase has doubled over the past year - with a total of 7,072 cases reported in 1997 - while previously it was believed the disease was on a downward cycle. In 1996, there were 6,501 new cases, an increase of only 289 on 1995. There were 6,319 new cases recorded in 1994. 'We have to wait a few more years before we can firmly establish the trend - if it's a true resurgence,' chest consultant Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a representative of the Public Doctors' Association said. There was also a possibility of generally increased awareness about the disease after press reports of a spate of TB cases in kindergartens last year, he added. 'It's probably the major reason for the increase [of reports]. However, it would be prudent to be on guard for a resurgence of TB.' The question now arises as to whether many TB cases were previously going unreported, Dr Chan Shiu-lun, a member of the Tuberculosis, Chest and Heart Disease Association, stressed. 'You can't tell if a rise of 500 cases in one particular year means a definite resurgence. But you have to monitor it closely for the next few years. 'Now because of increased public awareness, including among general practitioners, I think that [the increase of 500] could account for the proportion of cases not reported.' Analysis of patients' records shows the rise in cases was not attributable to new immigrants arriving in the SAR, he said. TB remained endemic in Hong Kong because of overcrowding and an expanding population, Dr Chan said. 'Every office, every workplace has centralised air conditioning. We have to find out exactly what proportion of the air is being recirculated. This is an important thing we have to consider.' Drug-resistant TB is not a major problem - compared with other countries - because of Hong Kong's 'pioneering' work on short-course chemotherapy to treat the disease, he added.