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Deadly Victorian disease could spread by simply breathing as cases surge

One of the most common ailments of the Victorian era, tuberculosis still remains “one of the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide”.

Worryingly, a new study has revealed that catching the Victorian disease might be easier than previously thought.

The bacterial infection was believed to spread in the air when ill people coughed, laughed, sneezed or sang. However, research, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, found that four in five people who tested positive for the killer bug didn’t suffer from a cough.

The researchers now think that even people who show no signs of the disease could spread the infection, which can travel to your brain, heart, abdomen, glands, bones and nervous system.

Even those who don’t suffer from a cough can carry the infectious disease in their spit, which can be spewed into the air when someone talks or breathes, according to the study.

This means people could contract the infection just by breathing near someone who has tuberculosis but isn’t showing any obvious signs.

Study author Professor Frank Cobelens of Global Health at Amsterdam University Medical Center said: “A persistent cough is often the entry point for a diagnosis. But if 80 percent of those with TB don’t have one, then it means that a diagnosis will happen later, possibly after the infection has already been transmitted to many others, or not at all.”

The latest study looked at data of more than 600,000 people in 12 countries across Africa and Asia, including tuberculosis patients.

The findings revealed that 82.8 percent of those with the disease had no persistent cough and 62.5 percent had no cough at all. Furthermore, a quarter of those without a cough had high loads of the bacteria in their spit.

Professor Cobelens is now calling for consideration of new ways of diagnosing the disease so cases are not missed.

He said: “When we take all of these factors into account, it becomes clear that we need to really rethink large aspects of how we identify people with TB. It’s clear that current practice, especially in the most resource-poor settings, will miss large numbers of patients with TB.”

The new research comes as the cases of the Victorian disease are now on the rise. According to the UK Health Security Agency, the number of infections increased by over 10 percent last year.

Globally, 7.5 million people were diagnosed with the killer bug in 2022 – the highest number ever recorded.

Health chiefs are scrambling to “investigate the reasons” behind this sudden infection rise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) previously suggested this could be because many people were unable to get a diagnosis or receive treatment during Covid lockdowns.

Now, anyone suffering from a persistent cough and fever, especially those in groups at a higher risk of catching tuberculosis, is being urged not to dismiss their symptoms as a cold.

Key signs include a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, feeling exhausted, a high temperature, weight loss and loss of appetite.

People are at a higher risk of catching the disease if they are in close contact with an infected person, travel to countries with high rates of tuberculosis, are homeless, are addicted to drugs, have a weakened immune system or are in prison.

There’s a vaccine that can protect you against the infection, but vaccination programmes have been scrapped in several countries over the last 20 years. The good news is that most cases of tuberculosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

This story originally appeared on Express.co.uk

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