TB levels in London as high as those in some African countries

A new survey by Britain's National Health Service shows that tuberculosis infection rates in some London neighborhoods match those in found in African countries where the disease is endemic.

The NHS survey said that the number of TB cases in London rose by 50 percent in the 10 years before 2009. The airborne bacteria appears to have taken root in populations of recent immigrants, addicts and the homeless, according to Post-Gazette.com.

Pockets of TB infection have appeared in the shadows of some of London's richest banks and tallest skyscrapers and may pose a risk to those who work in affluent circles.

"You wouldn't expect to see that," Brian McCloskey, the Health Protection Agency's regional director for London, said, Post-Gazette.com reports. "TB is one of the biggest public health problems we have."

A particular hot spot is Tower Hamlets, a borough that combines Canary Wharf, home to some of Europe's largest banks, and areas of extreme poverty that stretch along the Thames' old docks east of the Tower of London and north past Whitechapel.

Julian Surey, a nurse at Tower Hamlets TB Service in East London, recallrf screening several workers at a nearby bank after one person there tested positive for TB, a challenge in the open-space environment.

"They were hot-desking and it was a nightmare," Surey said, Post-Gazette.com reports. "People did get concerned."

Surey said that at least one person who sat next to the original case tested positive for TB. Surey declined to identify the bank, as did other nurses.

"Can you get it on the Tube? In theory, yes," Surey said, referring to London's rapid transit system, according to Post-Gazette.com. "It can go to everyone,"

Graham Cooke, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, said that drugs are only part of the solution because TB is such a sensitive subject. According to Cooke, it carries with it a host of social and political ramifications.