London – It has been mistakenly assumed that ancient diseases are totally eradicated, especially in developed countries. The United Kingdom particularly is now facing a “Victorian” disease epidemic, as cases of tuberculosis, scurvy, cholera, whooping cough, and scarlet fever are rising alarmingly. Experts believe the main causes could be immigration, malnutrition, poverty and lack of access to health care.

Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, an immunologist based in London, said that there has been a dramatic spike in scarlet fever, with 14,000 cases last year, the highest since the 1960s. According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), scarlet fever cases have increased 136%; cases of cholera have spiked 300% over the past five years; and, scurvy rates are up 38%. As for tuberculosis, diagnoses have decreased but rates are still disproportionately high, especially in some British neighborhoods where TB rates are even higher than in Guatemala, Iraq, Rwanda and other developing countries. Surprisingly, TB caused more global deaths this year than HIV and AIDS.

“Victorian” illnesses such as tuberculosis, cholera, and scarlet fever have been on the rise in the UK. Credit: Mic

Even though TB cases have been steadily decreasing also in the United States, on Tuesday, the White House published information about a new 5-year program to fight multidrug-resistant tuberculosis worldwide, after the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed the latest statistics on TB diagnosis and deaths. Named as the National Action Plan, the program involves efforts of governments of all affected nations, including partners from the private sector, as well as bilateral and multilateral partners.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, commented that despite the fact that advances in TB control have helped save many lives around the world, leaders must encourage improvement in health care services and “critically invest in research” in order to definitely end the epidemic.

Malnutrition: A leading cause of severe diseases

British experts highlight the recent spike in malnutrition. It figures as the primary or secondary cause of admissions to the hospital, as the number of patients admitted with malnutrition has doubled in three years. Dianne Jeffrey, head of the Malnutrition Task Force, told earlier this year that professionals and the elderly mistakenly assume that it is normal to lose weight and have a reduced appetite as a consequence of aging.

“Much malnutrition is preventable, so it is totally unacceptable that estimates suggest there are at least one million older people malnourished or at risk of malnourishment,” expressed Jeffrey. “Cuts to social care mean many older people are being left to cope on their own.”

Raise awareness: Infectious diseases are not eradicated

Martinez-Alier warned that low vaccination rates significantly contribute to the problem. Of course, if people in this modern world believe that infectious diseases are a matter of history, no one will think of the importance of getting a vaccine against them. Most of the illnesses resurging today can be cured with medication. TB, for instance, can spread quickly and cause death if left untreated. In 2013, an estimated of 9 million cases of TB were reported worldwide, killing around 1.5 million people.

“I think there is a general sense in this country, at least for me — which is incorrect — that infectious diseases are completely eradicated, or that we found some way to get rid of them and that they are ‘Victorian’ illnesses,” said Josie Garrett, a London resident who is currently taking medication for TB. He added that people need to be aware of the fact that those diseases remain a threat.

Source: Modern Readers