Irish TB outbreak sparks call for extra vigilance
The Republic of Ireland has "taken its eye off the ball" in dealing with the prevention of tuberculosis (TB), a leading expert on the disease said last night.
He was commenting after the Republic's Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that over 200 children are to be tested after three cases of the disease were identified among children attending a primary school in Cork.
Respiratory physician Professor Joseph Keane said not enough was being done to prevent latent TB from "waking up" in vulnerable groups among the population.
"This is about this country's decision to ignore the growth in latent TB and to prevent it from waking up in people," he said.
"We have taken our eye off the ball in dealing with TB. The issue has gone way down the political agenda." Ireland has about 480 cases of TB a year and over the last decade the rate has been steadily rising, he said. Our rate was below 10 per 100,000 of population per year but has now risen above 11.
"In world terms, we are very ordinary in how we go about dealing with TB epidemics and it's time to start work on prevention rather than cure," Prof Keane said.
There should be a better understanding in dealing with latent TB and in looking for vulnerable groups like those who were homeless and people who had emigrated here from areas of high prevalence of the disease, he added.
Screening is to get under way at St Finbarr's Hospital in Cork today following the confirmation of three cases of TB among pupils of Ballintemple National School in Cork city.
The infected children in Ballintemple have started anti-tuberculosis treatment and are under specialist paediatric care.
The outbreak was identified on August 10, after the summer holidays had started, and parents with children at the school were notified by letter two days later. Following a risk assessment, it was decided that all 220 pupils at the school would be screened as a precautionary measure.
Screening is being offered to family members of the three children who contracted TB. The source of the disease has not yet been identified.
The HSE South said an investigation of this cluster of cases was progressing in line with national TB contact-tracing guidelines.
Fine Gael has called for an urgent review of TB services in Ireland following the identification of the three Cork cases.
Local Fine Gael TD Deirdre Clune, and the party's health spokesman James Reilly, said Health Minister Mary Harney should take immediate action.
Ms Clune said Ms Harney should set up a review of TB services, including the process for administering the BCG vaccination to infants.