A KILLER disease which has been around for thousands of years is on the increase in Britain, as reflected in the latest figures for Cheshire.
Last year there were 40 cases of TB or Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the county compared with 33 in 2003.
Tissue samples from Egyptian mummies over 4,000 years old show signs of being infected with the disease. And TB has never gone away - it kills four people every minute worldwide.
That's why local health chiefs are promoting World TB Day on Thursday March 24 when health organisations worldwide try to raise people's awareness of this life-threatening disease.
Anne-Marie Storey, communications manager for Cheshire West Primary Care Trust said: 'There are no barriers of race or class to TB - it infects people in every walk of life.
'The good news is that TB is not easy to catch. Although it is an airborne disease, it is harder to catch than a common cold. TB can be spread by coughing and/or sneezing but there would have to be close and prolonged contact with an infectious person to catch TB.
'There is also an effective vaccination for TB which prevents most - but not all - people from catching it.' Mrs Storey said if someone did catch the disease they could take comfort from the fact that treatment is effective.
'Antibiotics can cure TB but people must finish their course - which can last for several months - or the disease will come back and be more resistant to the drugs that fight it,' she said.
TB continues to kill approximately two million people each year worldwide and the stigma causes global health problems.
Mrs Storey commented: 'From a personal point of view, the effects on someone's family, working life and financial status can be devastating. So the message is - help health experts protect the health of the community.
'Stay alert for signs of symptoms and, if you do catch TB, see your treatment through from start to finish.'
Symptoms caused by TB can also be caused by a wide range of other conditions. Anyone with one, or more, of the symptoms below should consult their family doctor without delay. They include:
A persistent cough, which has lasted for months
Rapid loss of weight (which is the commonest feature)
A high temperature
Heavy sweating at night
People at particular risk are families newly arrived from countries with a high incidence of TB in Africa, Asia, China central and south America as well as parts of Russia and other eastern block nations.
Also more vulnerable are people who have lived, worked or travelled in countries having a high incidence of TB for more than one month as well as smokers; anyone who is under-nourished; the very young; the elderly; people with low immunity; diabetes sufferers; people with an alcohol or drugs habit and anyone with a family history of TB.
If someone falls into one of these categories, the NHS can screen them using a simple skin test and/or a chest X-ray. If they have TB they will be given treatment to cure them.
If not, they can be given a vaccine to protect them if they have not had a vaccine called 'BCG' before.
Anyone who has had close, personal contact with someone who has TB may be asked by their GP or other health professional to attend a chest clinic for a simple test and/or X-ray. Anyone with concerns about TB should first contact their GP.