Tuberculosis rates highest in 30 years (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Steve Addison) Cases of tuberculosis in Britain reached their highest level for 30 years in 2009 with 9,040 cases and the number of new drug-resistant TB cases has almost doubled in the past decade, government data showed on Thursday. Skip related content Related photos / videos A lab assistant performs an experiment at new P3 level research laboratory against More Enlarge photo An annual tuberculosis (TB) report from the government's Health Protection Agency also said the number of multi-drug resistant cases of the disease had also doubled in the last decade, although the proportion of these extremely difficult to treat cases remains low at around 1.2 percent. Treatment for non drug-resistant TB requires a six month course of multiple antibiotics. But for drug-resistant TB, the treatment is even more complicated and prolonged and for multi-drug resistant TB, treatment may be required for 18 months or even longer. "We are concerned to see cases of TB at their highest levels since the 1970s. TB is a preventable and treatable condition but, if left untreated, can be life-threatening," said Dr Ibrahim Abubakar, head of TB surveillance at the HPA. He said that while TB can affect anyone, cases are more common among people in urban areas, as with many other infectious diseases, and in immigrant communities and vulnerable populations such as drug users or the homeless. "TB is sadly not a disease of the past and the figures today serve as an important reality check," said Dr Paul Cosford, executive director of Health Protection Services at the HPA. Up to a third of people worldwide are infected with the bacterium that causes TB, although only a small percentage ever develop the disease. Some studies have shown that people with substance abuse problems and those who live in hard-to-reach communities are more prone to the illness than the general population. The AIDS epidemic drove up the number of TB cases across the world in the late 1980s and 1990s because the immune suppression caused by HIV can make a person far more susceptible to TB. Patients can get drug-resistant forms of the disease either as a result of catching such a strain from another person or because of inappropriate or incomplete treatment. "The key to reducing levels of TB is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment," Abubakar said in a statement. He said efforts to improve early diagnosis and control the spread of the infection should be a priority in the UK and be increased in vulnerable areas where prevalence is high.