Tuberculosis rates have fallen among the Maltese and the health department is focusing its awareness campaign on migrants.

Most cases in Malta involve people who come from TB endemic countries. In 2013, 88 per cent of cases were imported.

The inflow of irregular migration from the African subcontinent since 2002 has resulted in a significant rise in the overall TB rate, director of Disease Prevention Charmaine Gauci told Times of Malta, noting similar trends were observed in other countries.

Countries marked World TB Day yesterday to raise awareness and eliminate the disease.

TB is caused by a bacterium and commonly affects the lungs but can also affect body parts such as the lymph nodes, brain, kidneys, bones, joints and skin. This is known as extra-pulmonary TB.

Found worldwide, TB is second only to HIV and Aids as the greatest killer from a single infectious agent.

When infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB bacilli into the air and a person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected. However, it usually requires prolonged close contact with someone with the disease to get infected.

Dr Gauci noted that Malta was a low incidence country with an average of 7.6 cases for every 100,000 people.

While there were 10 pulmonary TB cases among the Maltese in 2008, this went down to three in 2011 and six in 2012, echoing the downward trend seen in most western European countries.

Malta had average of 7.6 cases per 100,000 people

There were also three extra-pulmonary TB cases in 2008, and only one in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of pulmonary TB cases among irregular migrants was 27 in 2008, dropping to 18 the following year and remaining stable in for 2012.

When it comes to other foreigners in Malta, there were five pulmonary TB cases in 2008, two for 2009 and 2010, while in 2011 there were none.

However, there were five cases in 2012.

Last year, the Disease Prevention Directorate secured some €700,000 from the European Refugee Fund Emergency Measures to enhance screening of migrants arriving by boat. A mobile digital X-ray machine was installed at Lyster detention centre in ─Žal Far.

Since July, migrants have been scanned for active TB on their arrival in a timely manner, without overburdening Mater Dei Hospital facilities, Dr Gauci noted.

Meanwhile, worldwide, health systems miss three million people with TB every year.

The directorate is handing out leaflets about TB in different languages including French, Somali, Arabic, Tegrinya and Amharic.

A strategy to prevent and control TB has been developed while those working in high-risk environments are screened. Treatment is free for those with active and latent TB, and is supervised by care workers to make sure it is taken properly and completed.