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Cooks among TB-free nations

Monday 15 October 2018 | Published in Health


The Cook Islands is one of only eight countries in the world that did not have a reported case of tuberculosis (TB) last year.

Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, killing an estimated 1.3 million people last year and is the single most deadly infection on the planet.

The World Health Organisation has just released its Global Tuberculosis Report for 2018, which has a country-by-country breakdown of rates of the disease.

African and East Asian nations come off worst in the report, whereas island nations are less affected by the bacterial disease.

Other nations that WHO said were TB free are Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Monaco, Montserrat, San Marino, and the Pacific islands of Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna.

Tuberculosis is spread between people by coughing and sneezing.

The infection usually affects the lungs but the bacteria can cause problems in any part of the body, including the abdomen, glands, bones and the nervous system.

In healthy people the bacteria are often killed by the immune system or at least prevented from spreading, but in some cases the bacteria can take hold and cause a more serious infection.

TB infection causes symptoms such as fever, coughing, night sweats, weight loss, tiredness and fatigue, a loss of appetite and swelling in the neck.

If the immune system fails to contain TB bacteria the infection can take weeks or months to take hold and produce symptoms, and if it is left untreated it can be fatal.

WHO has revealed the countries where people are most likely to catch the potentially-deadly lung infection in a global report.

India had, by far, the most TB cases in 2017, with 2,740,000, more than three times as many as second-placed China’s 889,000.

However, because both countries have such large populations, the likelihood of catching it is lower than in smaller countries.

Other danger zones for the infection include South Africa, North Korea and Mongolia.

Lesotho, a country contained within South Africa, comes out worst off, with a rate of 665 cases of TB per every 100,000 residents – more than one in every 200 people.

After Lesotho, the Philippines (554) was followed by the African nations of Mozambique (551) and Gabon (529).

The remainder of the top 10 is made up by North Korea, Timor-Leste in Asia, the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea, and Mongolia.

Wealthier Western countries with modern healthcare are less bothered by TB.

The US had just three cases per 100,000 people, the UK had nine, and Australia and Ireland both seven.

Those with weaker immune systems or without good healthcare are more at risk of having serious complications from TB.

TB is a common cause of death among people with HIV, because it is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems – people with HIV are thought to be up to 27 times more likely to get the disease.

With treatment, TB can almost always be cured with antibiotics and people tend to stop being contagious after about three weeks of therapy.

TB is most common in less-developed countries in sub-saharan and west Africa, southeast Asia, Russia, China and South America.