1. Key messages
- Belgium is a low-incidence country for tuberculosis, with 8.6 new tuberculosis cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 (n=981), the same rate as in 2017 (n=972).
- There are important geographical differences: in 2018, the incidence rate was 4.8 times higher in the Brussels-Capital Region when compared with Wallonia and Flanders, where the incidence rates were similar.
- The incidence of tuberculosis was higher in men, whatever the age, region or nationality.
- Big cities reported more cases since there is a higher concentration of risk groups. Brussels was the city with the highest incidence.
- In Belgium, in 2018, 52.1% of the tuberculosis cases occurred among people who did not have a Belgian nationality. This proportion was higher in Brussels (63%) than in Wallonia (47.8%) and Flanders (44.9%).
Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that usually affects the lungs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 10 million new cases of tuberculosis in 2018. This disease is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Belgium is situated among the “low-incidence countries” with less than 10 new cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 inhabitants per year .
Tuberculosis can nowadays be effectively treated with a success rate 77.7% in 2017 in Belgium, less than in 2016 (83.7%). In Belgium, treatment is free of charge for the entire population (even for people without health insurance). However, 8.6% of tuberculosis patients still die before the end of treatment (half of these deaths are due to comorbidity) .
The main risk factors for tuberculosis are contacts of infected people, poverty, poor nutritional status and immunodeficiency. Some people are more likely to get infected with tuberculosis since they are more exposed to the risk factors, like health care professionals and vulnerable populations such as homeless people, prisoners and migrants originating from countries with high tuberculosis prevalence.
Data presented in this chapter are extracted from the Belgian tuberculosis registry 2018 report written by the Fonds des Affections Respiratoires (FARES)  and the Vlaamse Vereniging voor Respiratoire Gezondheidszorg en Tuberculosebestrijding (VRGT) .
3. Tuberculosis incidence
Situation in 2018
In 2018, 981 new cases of tuberculosis were reported in Belgium (8.6 cases/100,000 inhabitants). Men were more often affected by the disease than women, with 66.3% of new cases occurring among men in 2018 in Belgium; the sex ratio therefore equaled 2. 39.3% of the tuberculosis patients diagnosed in 2018 were aged 25-44 years.
41% of tuberculosis cases were registered in Flanders (n=401), 36% in Brussels (n=354) and 23% in Wallonia (n=226). When related to the number of inhabitants, the incidence rate was 4.8 times higher in Brussels (29.5 cases/100,000) as compared to Wallonia (6.2 cases/100,000) and Flanders (6.1 cases/100,000), where incidence rates were similar.
Tuberculosis distribution by nationality
In 2018, in Belgium, 52.1% of new tuberculosis cases occurred among people with a foreign nationality: 88.9% of those come from countries with high prevalence of the disease (mostly from Eastern Europe, Africa and South Asia countries). This proportion was higher in Brussels (63% of the new tuberculosis cases among people with foreign origin) than in Wallonia and Flanders (respectively 47.8% and 44.9%).
Among Belgians, the incidence rate was 4.5 times higher in Brussels (16.8/100,000) compared to Flanders (3.7/100,000), and 4.7 times higher than in Wallonia (3.6/100,000).
Among non-Belgians, the incidence rate of tuberculosis was also higher in Brussels (53.5/100,000) when compared with the two other regions but the difference was less pronounced than for Belgian people: the incidence rate was respectively 1.7 and 1.8 times higher than in Flanders (31.5/100,000) and in Wallonia (29.3/100,000).
Wallonia had the lowest incidence rate, both among Belgians and among non-Belgians.
- Crude rate
- Number of cases
The distribution of the incidence by age and sex is different according to nationality:
- In 2018 among Belgians, the incidence increased with age in men and was higher in age group 15-44 in women. The sex ratio was 1.8. It tended to increase with age: the incidence rate was 3 times higher in men among people over 75 years.
- In 2018 among non-Belgians, the incidence was higher in age group 15-29 years and lower in upper age groups. The sex ratio was 2.2. The incidence rate was 3.5 times higher in men in age group 15-29 years, and about 2 times higher in men in age groups 30-44 years, 45-59 years and over 75 years.
Incidence in big cities
In 2018, tuberculosis occurred more frequently in big cities where people at risk are over-represented:
- The incidence in Brussels was the highest (29.5/100,000); it was almost 3.5 times higher than in Belgium as a whole (8.6 /100,000).
- The incidence was also quite high Liege (21.3 new cases/100,000), followed by Antwerp (16.4 new cases/100,000), Charleroi and Namur (more than 10 new cases/100,000).
- On the contrary, the tuberculosis incidence was lower in the cities of Bruges and Ghent where the rates were below the national average (respectively 7.6 and 4.6 new cases/100,000).
Source: Belgian tuberculosis registry, FARES/VRGT [2,3]
The number of new cases of tuberculosis is decreasing since more than 30 years, although the diminution is slowing down since the nineties and tends to stagnate the last few years. The incidence rate dropped below the level of 10 cases/100,000 for the first time in 2007, ranking the country among low-incidence countries. In 2018, the incidence rate was the same as in 2017 (8.6 cases/100,000; n=972).
Since 1981, the incidence rate is decreasing in all three regions, with more variations in Brussels due to migration flows:
- In Wallonia, the incidence rate has decreased below the national average since 1987, except in 1991 and 1999; in 2018, the lowest rate ever was observed.
- In Flanders, the incidence rate increased from 5.9/100,000 in 2017 to 6.1/100,000 in 2018.
- In Brussels, the incidence rate tends to increase since 2015, and has increased from 27.8/100,000 in 2017 to 29.5/100,000 in 2018.
Source: Belgian tuberculosis registry, FARES/VRGT [2,3]
International comparisons made on reported data must be interpreted with caution, since methods for collecting data are different depending the country. That is why the WHO Global Task Force on TB Impact Measurement  has developed a methodology to take into account underreporting, over and under-diagnosis in tuberculosis estimates. This explains why the incidence rate in Belgium presented in this international comparison is different compared to the incidence rate extracted from the Belgian tuberculosis registry publication.
Source: WHO/ECDC 
4. Read more
- The EU-15 corresponds to all countries that belonged to the European Union between 1995 and 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. We compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-15 because these countries have similar socioeconomic conditions.
- Tuberculosis case
- According to the WHO-recommended definitions , a tuberculosis case is defined by a case of active tuberculosis clinically diagnosed by a clinician or other medical practitioner or bacteriologically confirmed. Clinically diagnosed cases include “cases diagnosed on the basis of X-ray abnormalities or suggestive histology and extrapulmonary cases without laboratory confirmation” .
- Global tuberculosis report 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. https://www.who.int/tb/publications/global_report/en/
- Registre belge de la tuberculose 2018, FARES asbl, mars 2020. https://www.fares.be/tuberculose/publications/rapports-epidemiologiques/fares-registretbc2018_vd.pdf
- Tuberculoseregister België 2018, Vlaamse Vereniging voor Respiratoire Gezondheidszorg en Tuberculosebestrijding VRGT vzw. https://tuberculose.vrgt.be/facts-figures-tuberculose
- WHO Regional Office for Europe/European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Tuberculosis surveillance and monitoring in Europe 2020 – 2018 data. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2020. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/TB-Surveillance-report_24March2020.pdf
- Definitions and reporting framework for tuberculosis – 2013 revision, updated December 2014. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015. https://www.who.int/tb/publications/definitions/en/