Europe health check shows TB, measles, other worries

LONDON Thu Nov 10, 2011 2:31pm EST

Photographers take a picture of a lab assistant preparing an experiment during an inauguration visit of a new P3 level research laboratory against tuberculosis at the School of Life Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne in Ecublens near Lausanne  March 17, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Photographers take a picture of a lab assistant preparing an experiment during an inauguration visit of a new P3 level research laboratory against tuberculosis at the School of Life Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne in Ecublens near Lausanne March 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

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LONDON (Reuters) - Europe's health is suffering, with around 80,000 cases of tuberculosis infection a year and serious problems with measles, HIV and threats from "superbug" infections, an annual health report on the region said Thursday.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors disease in EU, said its 2011 report sends "worrying signals" on epidemics of measles, and shows that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS is still being passed on in all countries.

But the major public health concern for the EU is the threat of antibiotic resistance and the rise of "superbug," or multi drug-resistant, infections, the report said.

"The biggest threat we face is complacency about infectious diseases. The attitude that the battle against infectious diseases has been won must be continuously challenged," Marc Sprenger, director of the Stockholm-based ECDC, said in a forward to the report.

"This report provides plenty of evidence that microbes are still formidable enemies."

The ECDC's annual epidemiological report is designed to provide a picture of the state of infectious diseases in Europe so that European public health policymakers can decide on priorities and action to improve health.

The 2011 report is based on data from 2009 and 2010 -- since collecting and analyzing disease numbers takes time -- but officials said the picture it paints is one that has changed little. If anything, things appear to have got worse.

The "worrying signals" on measles in Europe noted in 2009 have now translated into a epidemics of the disease in many countries in Europe this year, with more than 30,000 cases reported across the region so far in 2011.

And the World Health Organization said in September this year that strains of multi drug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant TB are spreading at an "alarming" rate in Europe and will kill thousands unless health authorities act quickly.

Part of the reason for the tuberculosis epidemics is the rise of antibiotic resistance -- a factor the ECDC said was vital to get under control, even if economic hard times make it hard to find the money to invest.

The ECDC warned late last year that a multi-drug resistant "superbug" from India first reported in Britain in August 2010 was rapidly spreading across the region.

"In order to fight against infectious diseases, continuous investment in and improvement of surveillance systems ... is of outmost importance despite times of economic recession across Europe," Sprenger said in the 2011 report.

A study in The Lancet last month showed how the economic crisis in Greece is already hitting the health of that nation hard, with rates of suicide, HIV infection and illegal drug use all rising.

Experts warned that other European nations struggling with mounting debts and faltering growth should take note of how recessions can harm health.

Thursday's ECDC report also identified several emergent diseases in Europe it said might pose a risk to public health.

There are indications that the West Nile virus might have established itself in parts of south-east Europe, it said, and there have even been locally acquired cases of diseases previously only considered to be imported, like malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya.

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