The number of South Koreans who were newly diagnosed with tuberculosis last year inched down, but its infection rate remained high compared with other advanced countries, a government report showed Thursday.
According to the report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 30,892 people were newly diagnosed with TB in 2016, slightly down from the previous year's 32,181.
The 2016 figure means that 60.4 out of every 100,000 South Koreans were infected with the infectious disease, the report showed.
(Photo of a poster courtesy of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
However, the number of infected patients aged between 15 and 19 dropped by 23.8 percent on-year, from 1,014 in 2015 to 750 in 2016, the report showed. Also, the number of TB patients aged between 20 and 24 shrank from 1,671 in 2015 to 1,419 in 2016.
TB is a bacteria-related disease that mainly attacks the lungs and is one of the most infectious diseases in the world, along with HIV and malaria.
South Korea had the highest incidence rate of TB among the world's wealthiest countries belonging to the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2015.
A separate OECD report showed that 80 out of every 100,000 South Koreans were infected with the disease in 2015, trailed by Portugal with 23.
The mortality rate also came to 5.2 out of every 100,000 South Koreans, followed by Chile with 2.7 and Portugal with 2.5, the report showed.
In 2016, the ministry unveiled comprehensive measures to gradually root out the disease, mainly through boosting personnel and treatment facilities across the nation.
Also, Seoul began carrying out massive free tests among medical personnel, high school freshmen, teachers and other school employees for latent TB -- a condition in which TB bacteria are in the body but inactive with no symptoms.
There is a sharp increase in TB patients around the age of 15.
Without treatment, about 5 to 10 percent of latent TB patients are known to develop TB at some time in their lives, usually between 15 and 40, the ministry said.
The government said it aims to lower the infection rate to 12 per 100,000 people by 2025, which is about the OECD average. (Yonhap)