'Victorian' disease resurgence in England follows global pattern

The increased rates of many diseases is being blamed on poverty, malnutrition and ignorance that the diseases still exist.
By Stephen Feller   |   Dec. 24, 2015 at 2:16 PM

LONDON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Diseases that many developed countries thought they had relegated to history are seeing increased rates during the last several years, including tuberculosis, cholera, measles, whooping cough and scurvy.

England is not immune; in the last five years, the number of people being treated for scarlet fever has increased by 136 percent, scurvy by 38 percent, and cholera by 300 percent, according to the National Health Service. The increases in disease rates have partially been blamed on cuts to social services, as well as increased poverty and malnutrition in the country.

Overall tuberculosis rates in England have come down in recent years, but are still surprisingly high to many. Some neighborhoods in the country have higher incidence rates than countries like Rwanda, Iraq and Guatemala where they might be expected, the National Health Service reported earlier this year.

Tuberculosis surpassed HIV and AIDS as the largest global killer this year, and even in the United States the decrease TB rates has slowed in the last several years.

"There has been a huge rise in scarlet fever -- 14,000 [suspected] cases in the last year, the highest since the 1960s," Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, an immunologist in London, told CNN. "We have seen a rise in the cases of tuberculosis, we've seen a rise in cases of whooping cough, we have seen more measles in the last 10 years than in the last 10 years before that."

Researchers note many of the diseases are treatable and can be controlled, but lack of access to care results in spread of disease and death, such as with tuberculosis. The disease killed 1.5 million people in 2013, after infecting about 9 million. Despite numbers of TB cases in the United States continuing to decrease, the White House earlier this week released a plan to contribute more globally to fight the disease, particularly multidrug-resistent strains, during the next five years.

"We are seeing a reduced vaccine uptake, for example with measles," Martinez-Alier said. "[We have] reduced population immunity, for example with whooping cough; [and] increased poverty and more people on the poverty line," all contribute to the problem. In the United States, outbreaks of measles and whooping cough were also blamed on reduced vaccination and herd immunity.

Some experts in England call attention to a large recent increase in malnutrition -- the number of people admitted to the hospital with malnutrition listed as the primary or secondary cause doubled in three years -- as part of the cause of increases in certain diseases.

"Older people and professionals often incorrectly assume that losing weight and having a reduced appetite are just a normal part of ageing," Dianne Jeffrey, chairs of the Malnutrition Task Force, told the Independent earlier this year.

"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," she said. "Cuts to social care mean many older people are being left to cope on their own."

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