BACKGROUND: A survey was undertaken to determine the distribution of tuberculosis in England and Wales and, by comparison with the findings of similar surveys in 1978-9 and 1983, to study trends in the incidence of the disease by ethnic group over the decade. METHODS: The survey included all cases of tuberculosis in England and Wales newly notified to the medical officers for environmental health during the six months from 2 January to 1 July 1988. Notification rates were calculated from population estimates from the 1988 Labour Force Survey. RESULTS: Clinical details were obtained from the clinician for 2149 (99.4%) of the 2163 newly notified and previously untreated patients. Over 90% were either white (53%) or of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi ethnic origin (39%). The notification rate in the white population was 4.7/100,000/year, a decline of 7.2% per year since 1978. The rate was 134.6/100,000/year in the population of Indian ethnic origin, and 100.5/100,000/year in that of Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnic origin, a decline of 6% a year since 1978 for the two groups combined (standardised for age, country of birth, and length of time in the UK). In all ethnic groups rates of disease were much higher in the elderly than in the young. Bacteriological results were available in 1161 (80%) of the 1443 pulmonary cases. In 939 (81%) Mycobacterium tuberculosis was cultured; 614 cases (53%) also had positive smears, of which 424 (69%) were from white patients. CONCLUSIONS: Notification rates for tuberculosis in England and Wales declined over the decade, but major differences remained between ethnic groups.
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