Migrants in Europe at risk of drug resistant TB infections

TMP – 10/04/2017

Migrants face a high risk of drug-resistant TB infections, the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases has warned.

As drug-resistant strains of TB spread more easily, the people most at risk are migrants who often find themselves in densely-populated, unsanitary conditions such as refugee camps.

“Although rare in European countries, the risks posed by the current migrant crisis makes MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis) an important and urgent health priority,” the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) said in a statement.

All cases of multi-drug-resistant TB cases in Austria, the Netherlands and Norway, and around 90% of those diagnosed in Britain, France, Italy and Germany, were diagnosed in migrants the ESCMID disclosed. This represented just over 1,400 cases in 12 countries in 2014.

Some migrants may arrive already sick with MDR-TB, others with a latent, unobserved infection or they might catch it on overcrowded refugee boats, at work or in camps.

Drug-resistant TB strains are more difficult and expensive to treat. Symptoms are not immediately visible, and the disease can spread easily from one person to another via coughing, sneezing or simply talking.

Many TB infection cases may never be spotted as European countries do not have a standardised approach to screening. Migrants may be refused access to treatment or may not know how to access treatment, and others might want to avoid a positive diagnosis for fear of being deported.

“The situation in Europe is such that governments are now tightening up in terms of who is able to access free statutory health services,” said Sally Hargreaves of the International Health Unit at Imperial College London.

“Nevertheless, of course it presents a challenge because we want to identify people with MDR-TB and make sure that they get appropriate treatment and also make sure it doesn’t spread within their own community… and the general community,” she added.