POTENTIALLY fatal tuberculosis is on the increase in Sandwell with 123 cases last year - a rise of 18 per cent.

One person died and the council is leading the fight against the killer disease, which ravaged Britain in Victorian times but was all but wiped out here by the 1970s following the introduction of antibiotics.

While Halesowen and Cradley has seen a fall in the last year with just 28 cases in the Dudley borough in 2012, down from 36 in 2011, Sandwell’s soaring rate has prompted the council to pioneer a new blood test.

The test, designed to detect latent TB, has also revealed higher levels in parts of Sandwell than expected.

Out of 68 samples, 17 were positive and although those with latent TB do not have the active disease, are well and cannot pass the infection to anyone else, they can by struck down by the active infection later in life.

Health chiefs are hoping to extend the screening across the borough, subject to funding and all GP practices have been sent information about TB to help them recognise the symptoms and diagnose the bacterial infection promptly.

In the last 20 years, TB cases have gradually increased in the UK, particularly among ethnic minority communities who are originally from places where it is more common such as Africa, South East Asia and Romania - dubbed the new TB capital of Europe.

Sandwell Council is urging people to seek early advice from their doctor if they develop any of the symptoms.

Councillor Paul Moore, cabinet member for public health, said: “We are absolutely committed to tackling TB in our communities and I want us to reduce the level of disease by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.”

He added: “We are making sure that health professionals are aware of the disease and want everyone to ‘think TB’.”

Mary Tooley, nurse consultant at the council’s public health department, who specialises in TB prevention, said the blood test meant people could be treated earlier, reducing the number of active cases in the longer term.

Symptoms of TB include a persistent cough of more than three weeks that brings up phlegm which may be bloody, weight loss, fever, tiredness and fatigue. It affects mainly the lungs and is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs and sneezes of an infected person.