THIRTEEN cases of a potentially lethal disease which many people wrongly believe has been wiped out were discovered in Bournemouth in just ONE day, it has been revealed.

Tuberculosis, a bacterial infection which attacks the lungs, glands and bones and can kill if not treated, was discovered amongst the 138 homeless people who turned up to a special screening session organised by the East Dorset TB team.

It comes on top of news that 20 students in ten years in the Bournemouth area have been diagnosed with the disease, which remains a major global killer.

East Dorset's Lead TB Specialist Nurse David Thomas said: “There is no country without TB and while the rates are dropping in some of the UK’s bigger cities, in areas with fewer TB resources such as Dorset, they’re not.”

Because TB preys upon the weak and under-nourished, the TB team at Royal Bournemouth Hospital organised the screening in May. A fleet of 15 vehicles operated by local charities brought homeless people to Boscombe's Salvation Army church for the session.

“We can’t just sit in clinic and expect people to come to us," said David. "If they don’t turn up and we suspect they’re in trouble, we’ll go out and find them."

He said the team had expected '40 people at most', but: "Some 138 homeless people turned up on the day and were screened using a mobile x-ray van, hired from London, and a modern blood test that can detect TB in the body."

Of all those screened, 17 were found to have abnormal chest x-rays, 13 had positive blood tests for latent TB and one was diagnosed with cancer, and is now receiving palliative care.

“TB is strongly linked to poverty and underserved communities," said David. "For some people, accessing healthcare is a lower priority, especially if they’re working extremely hard and sending money home or struggling to buy food or find shelter. Unfortunately their health comes last.”

Nationally 70 per cent of people suffering with active TB are born outside the UK and are often working long hours to support their families, becoming run down and reigniting latent TB that may have been lying dormant in their bodies for several years, said the TB team.

The other 30 per cent of cases include those with specific risk factors for TB, such as homeless people, those with drug and alcohol addictions, former prisoners and those who are otherwise immunosuppressed.

Symptoms of the disease include a cough lasting more than three weeks, severe fatigue, unexplained weight loss, day fevers, reoccurring drenching night sweats and swollen lymph nodes. David and Susie want GPs to consider TB and investigate all patients with these symptoms especially if they also come from a high risk group. "Unfortunately having the BCG jab doesn’t mean you’re immune," said David.

The pair are also calling for students to be screened.

Susie said: "We had a young guy from India who came here to do his degree and was later diagnosed with multidrug resistant TB. He would’ve died if he was sent home but now he’s cured. He went through 18 months of tough treatment but we got there.”

The team want to see new entrant TB screening commissioned locally, provided during university fresher’s weeks and proactively offered when those from high risk groups engage with health providers.