SCREENING is understood to be underway at St Flannan’s College in Ennis, after a case of tuberculosis (TB) was identified at the school. While the HSE would not comment on individual cases, it stated that in incidences where there is a diagnosis of TB, an investigation is carried out to find out if there are any other cases.
“The Department of Public Health does not comment on the management or investigation of individual cases of tuberculosis. All cases are managed and investigated as per national guidance. Although tuberculosis is contagious (ie, can spread from one person to another), it’s not easy to catch,” a HSE spokesperson stated.
TB usually affects the lungs but can affect other parts of the body and is usually spread in the air. According to the HSE, if a person is diagnosed with TB, the person is offered treatment as soon as possible.
When a case of TB is notified to the Department of Public Health, a doctor investigates to find out if there are other cases of TB or latent TB infection (LTBI) among the contacts of the person. LBTI means a patient is infected with the tuberculosis bug but does not have active tuberculosis. If a person is diagnosed with LTBI, he/she may be offered preventive medication that can reduce their risk of becoming ill with TB.
The health authority further explained, “People who have been in close contact with someone who has TB may need to be checked for TB. This is called contact tracing and is organised by the Department of Public Health. The aim of contact tracing is to stop the spread of TB and to reduce illness among those who have been in contact with TB patients. Each situation is different and will be assessed by the Department of Public Health.”
Contacts with the greatest exposure, such as those living in the same house, are screened first, with other contacts, including those in school, screened afterwards if necessary.
The first test is usually a skin test involving a small injection into the arm, with the results read in two to three days. The doctor decides what other tests are needed based on this result.
According to Dr Rose Fitzgerald, specialist in public health, there has been a decline in overall TB rates in the Mid-West over the last five decades.
Speaking at a Primary, Community and Continuing Care meeting earlier this year, she outlined, “We have been having about 15 or 16 cases of TB annually; we had more last year and less this year. TB takes a long time to develop, so you can get variations from year to year. We are seeing drug-resistance for treating TB, which is a real problem. Sometimes people will get TB that is resistant to one drug, which can be easily enough managed.
“Sometimes you can get TB that is resistant to a number of drugs and you can get one that is extremely drug-resistant, which is very difficult to treat,” she added.
“The incidence of tuberculosis has been declining for the last 50 years. People thought it was gone completely, so now people are concerned when they hear about TB cases,” she explained. “In Ireland, there are in the region of 300 TB cases every year.”
By Jessica Quinn