London: The World Health Organisation today urged Western Europe to be alert against drug-resistant tuberculosis in the wake of an "alarming rise" in the number of cases reported across the region.
The WHO hopes its action plan, published Wednesday, will prevent 263,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and the more lethal extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) between 2011 and 2015.
"TB is an old disease that never went away," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
"Now it is evolving with a vengeance and we have to find new weapons to fight it," she added, before promising technical support for any member nations who committed to the plan.
More than 80,000 new cases of the lung disease are reported each year in Western Europe, London being the hardest hit capital city with 3,500 new cases diagnosed annually.
Ibrahim Abubakar, a TB expert at Britain`s Health Protection Agency (HPA), called on health officials to take the lead in the fight against the condition.
"I think without a doubt there`s a need to make all healthcare workers, but GPs (general doctors) and A&E staff in particular, aware of the signs and symptoms of TB so they can recognise this earlier," he said.
Almost 12 per cent of newly diagnosed TB patients have the MDR form. Half of those sufferers are expected to die as drugs strong enough to treat the disease are unavailable, and are not expected online before 2013.
MDR-TB and XDR-TB fail to respond to standard anti-tuberculosis drugs, making them much more complex and costly to treat and increasing the threat that TB will spread much more widely, especially in poorer environments where it thrives.
Rising immigration from infected areas has contributed to the rise of TB in Europe, but the WHO warned against complacency among the native populations.
"It can affect anyone," Ogtay Gozalov, from the WHO European regional office, said. "Any one of us can be exposed to these diseases and get infected.
"A big proportion of these people who are infected can convert and develop the (resistant) disease," he cautioned.
Meanwhile, a mobile X-ray unit which can detect the disease has proved a cost-effective success in London, it was to be announced at the HPA annual conference at the University of Warwick in central England today.