TB deaths in Europe stop falling for first time in two decades

Covid disruption led number of deaths from disease across continent to stop falling for first time in decades

Deaths from tuberculosis (TB) in Europe have stopped falling for the first time in two decades due to the Covid-19 pandemic causing disruption to treatments.

While the number of cases declined slightly in 2021, the rate of decrease slowed dramatically due to pandemic-related challenges, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

One in three TB cases is resistant to the main treatment antibiotic, rifampicin, and 30 per cent of these are also resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics, the latest monitoring report from the ECDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows.

Europe remains a “long way” from meeting the target of reducing TB incidence by 80 per cent and deaths by 90 per cent by the end of the decade, the health agencies warned.


Although this is partly due to the impact of the pandemic, some countries still need to urgently renew their efforts, the organisations said in a statement on Friday marking World Tuberculosis Day.

Ireland recorded 222 TB cases last year, slightly up on 2021, according to the HSE, which says it is developing a strategy aimed at reaching the ECDC/WHO targets. Eighteen deaths were recorded in 2021.

Ireland’s rate of treatment success after 12 months for new and relapsed TB cases was just 6.3 per cent, against an international average of 71.7 per cent, according to the report.

People who are homeless, substance users or those with hazardous alcohol drinking behaviours, along with current and former prisoners and those born in countries with higher levels of infection, may be at a higher risk of TB, according to Dr Éamonn O’Moore, director of the HSE health protection service.

“For the vast majority of people diagnosed, TB is treatable and curable. Early detection is important and avoids health complications for those infected and less risk of transmission to others,” he said.

The number of TB cases in Europe edged up in 2021 to 166,000, including 33,520 in the EU. Overall, there were 23 per cent fewer cases in the WHO European region than compared to 2019. An estimated 20,000 deaths occurred.

“In 2021, the raging pandemic continued to heavily affect our member states. TB resources were diverted, and patients experienced difficulties in accessing clinical services, possibly resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment of some cases,” said ECDC director Andrea Ammon.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.