Claims by a leading Midland doctor who last week said Birmingham could face an outbreak of tuberculosis (TB) "within the next five years", have been scotched by the Health Protection Agency.

Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, South Birmingham Primary Care Trust's director of public health, warned the city's health watchdog on Thursday that to effectively tackle the issue "we need to know how many potential cases we have here."

He told the city council's health overview and scrutiny committee that a downturn in the economy and public health could lead to an outbreak of TB in Birmingham the next five years.

His comments came following a presentation on the city's migrant communities, but a lack of hard figures prompted the medic to speak out over possible public health risks which could arise as a result of ineffective monitoring.

Adrian Randall, the city council's lead officer for asylum seekers and refugees, had told councillors that "about 100,000" had settled in Birmingham since 1997, describing the figure as "big, but not overwhelming".

Yesterday the Heath Protection Agency and South Birmingham PCT stated that "there is no evidence to suggest we are facing a city-wide outbreak of TB as a result of recent arrivals to the UK".

In 2002, a total of 216 patients not born in the UK developed TB, and this figure rose to 287 in 2005, but only 12 per cent of those had arrived in Britain in the past two years, compared to 23 per cent of the 2002 patients.

Dr Spencer-Jones, in a statement, said: "This suggests that the increase is not a result of a large number of individuals arriving recently with TB but rather a combination of TB disease developing in individuals who may have been infected for some time and new infections acquired in the UK, or as a result of travel to other countries where TB is common."

A clinician at a Birmingham hospital, who asked not to be named, claimed that there is a link between the city's changing demographic and new TB cases.

He said: "Birmingham and London are the two main cities in Britain where TB is most common, which is mainly due to the growth in their ethnically-diverse populations.

"There does appear to be an increase in TB cases in our city, especially among black Africans, although the majority of cases are still from the Pakistani community."

Dr Spencer-Jones added: "This is not a new issue in the West Midlands, but nonetheless it is one we take very seriously and are working together with the PCTs and acute trusts to ensure cases are identified early and treated appropriately.

"It should also be remembered that TB is generally a preventable and curable condition.

"The trick is to diagnose it early and get people with the infection into appropriate treatment as soon as possible."

TB is caused by airborne germs, and often caught when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes, although not all patients with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people.

Symptoms include persistent cough, losing weight, blood in spit or phlegm, and a fever or night sweats.

Most cases are cured in about six months with TB drugs, and patients cease to infectious after two weeks on treatment. :