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Health agencies say drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis remain a killer in Europe

The World Health Organization and European Center for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis are complicating efforts to stamp out the disease.

Outbreaks of tuberculosis in Europe are declining though not fast enough, international health agencies warned in a joint report released Tuesday.

As many as 1,000 people a day contract tuberculosis and newer, more drug-resistant strains mean the disease is becoming more difficult to treat.

"MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant TB) is still ravaging the European region, making it the most affected area of the entire world," Zsuzsanna Jakab, the World Health Organization's regional director, said Tuesday.

Globally, TB in different strains killed around 1.5 million people in 2013 and the WHO warned last year of "crisis levels" of MDR-TB.

The latest report - a collaboration between the WHO and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control - found infection rates falling in some high-priority countries, while the disease is fighting back in other low-incidence countries.

TB is a contagious bacterial lung disease that spreads through coughs and sneezes from the infected. Patients require months of antibiotic drugs making it difficult to treat, especially as drug-resistant strains gather pace.

The WHO's most recent data dating from 2013 reported around 360,000 cases in the 53-country Europe region which includes Turkey and the former Soviet Union. Within the 28-member European Union, some 65,000 cases were reported during the same time period.

European health officials had set 2050 as a target date to eliminate TB but at the current pace this seems unrealistic, the report warned.

"At the current pace of an annual 6 percent decline, the EU/EEA will only be free of tuberculosis in the next century," said Marc Sprenger, director of the Stockholm-based ECDC which monitors disease in Europe.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia accounted for most of the European region's 38,000 official fatalities.

"Our data show a Europe in need of tailored interventions which target each country's settings," Sprenger said.

The disease can also affect other parts of the body and is estimated to be

the second deadliest infectious disease

, after HIV/AIDS.

jar/kms (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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