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Published: 15 November 2011

Tuberculosis among drug users

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease, usually attacking the lungs, which can be fatal. In 2008, a total of 82 605 cases were identified in 26 EU Member States and Norway, with rates higher than 20 per 100 000 in Romania (114.1), Lithuania (66.8), Latvia (47.1), Bulgaria (41.2), Estonia (33.1) and Portugal (28.7) (ECDC, 2010). In Europe, the disease is predominantly concentrated in high-risk groups, such as migrants, homeless people, drug users and prisoners. Due to marginalisation and lifestyle, drug users can face higher risks of contracting TB than the general population. HIV-positive status poses an additional risk of developing TB, which is estimated to be between 20 and 30 times greater than among those who do not have HIV infection (WHO, 2010).

Data on TB prevalence among drug-using populations are scarce. In Europe, high rates of active (symptomatic) TB are reported among drug users in treatment in Greece (1.7 %), Lithuania (3 %) and Portugal (1 % to 2 %), while systematic testing in drug treatment facilities in Austria, Slovakia and Norway did not identify any cases.

Tuberculosis in drug users can be effectively treated, although this requires a complex curative regimen of at least six months. Completion of treatment is essential, as the disease organism quickly becomes tolerant to medicines and develops resistance to treatment. For problem drug users, especially those with chaotic lifestyles, achieving adherence to treatment may be difficult. New approaches that aim to shorten the duration of treatment have the potential to increase the likelihood of successful completion.

ECDC (2010), Annual epidemiological report on communicable diseases in Europe 2010, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Stockholm.

WHO (2010), Global tuberculosis control: a short update to the 2010 report, World Health Organisation, Geneva.

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011