THE rate of tuberculosis in Braintree rose last year, new figures show.

TB Alert, the UK's national charity for the disease which primarily affects the lungs, said it is "worrying" that the number of cases across England rose.

It also said people who have TB or have suffered lasting effects from it may be at increased risk from coronavirus.

Public Health England figures show there were 1.5 cases of TB annually for every 100,000 people in Braintree between 2017 and 2019 – up from 1.3 between 2016 and 2018.

But the district saw the number of average annual cases stay the same, with two.

Across England, the rate rose slightly from 8.2 to 8.4 over this period – ending seven successive years of falling rates – while the number of cases increased by two per cent, to 4,725.

The disease is curable using antibiotics but can be fatal if left untreated.

TB Alert said it is responsible for more deaths than any other infection worldwide, and called for PHE's national TB action plan for 2020-25 to be launched as soon as possible.

Mike Mandelbaum, chief executive of the organisation, said: "It is worrying that the number of people with tuberculosis rose in 2019.

"We should take this as an early warning sign so that we don’t return to a pattern of rising rates like we saw in the 1990s and 2000s."

Like Covid-19, tuberculosis is an airborne disease that can be passed on by inhaling tiny droplets from an infected person's coughs and sneezes.

But it does not spread as easily as the cold or the flu, with prolonged periods of close contact with an infected person needed to catch it – and not everyone with TB is infectious.

Mr Mandelbaum added: "TB can affect nearly any part of the body but most often it affects people’s lungs, which is also the organ attacked by Covid-19.

"If people have TB or have been cured of it but left with damaged lungs, they may be at increased risk from Covid-19.

"They should ensure that any doctor treating or advising them knows their full medical history."

The East of England had the fifth highest number of cases on average of the nine English regions, with 394.

A PHE spokesman said England has surpassed the World Health Organisation's targets to reduce TB rates to 10 per 100,000 and is progressing towards the "pre-elimination stage", defined as 10 cases per million.

He added: “Despite a small rise in case numbers, the TB rate in England remains below the WHO definition of a low-incidence country, for a third consecutive year."