Third TB case creates concern

PHOTO: Third TB case creates concern

SINGAPORE - SHE is transferring her asthmatic daughter, who is in Secondary 1, to another school after a third student at Bedok Town Secondary School was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).

Said housewife Irma Sukmawaty, 40: "My child has asthma. I'm so scared that she will catch the airborne disease, so we want to move her to another school."

Other parents said that though they are worried, they have no plans to transfer their children. Some also said they will be sending their children for TB screening. But they are unhappy that they learnt of the cases from news reports.

Last month, a Secondary 4 student from the school was diagnosed with TB. The New Paper reported the first case in April, when a 17-year-old female student in the school had an active TB infection.

After that, some students were screened for TB.

Teachers also voluntarily went for screening. (See report on facing page.)

The second case of a student contracting TB was in July.

In September, the school's principal, Mr Chia Chor Yann, told TNP that he was not "unduly alarmed" over the situation.

But with the third case surfacing, parents have expressed concern.

Said Mrs Lynn Belmonte, 37, whose child is studying in the school: "First one, then two, and now three cases. What is happening, and what is the school doing to prevent (the) further spread of this disease?"

When the third case came to light, Mr Chia said the school would work closely with Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Tuberculosis Control Unit (TBCU) to identify and screen staff and students who were in close contact with the affected student.

But Mrs Belmonte and other parents said that since April, the school has not given parents details or updates of how the school is handling matters.

Said a parent who wanted to be known only as Madam Chung: "It's a very sickening feeling when I get to hear about new TB cases from the news, rather than from the school."

The 34-year-old housewife added: "I would rather hear things from the school first. But I haven't. So I have to be pro-active and try to read up about TB online."

She also intended to take her daughter for screening at TBCU.

In the meantime, neither she nor Mrs Belmonte would let their children return to school for their co-curricular activities (CCAs).

In Mrs Belmonte's case, it is because her daughter's CCA teacher has latent TB.

"The teacher told me she was put on a course of medication, but had to stop it due to the adverse effects it had on her liver," she shared.

Although the Ministry of Health's (MOH) website states that latent TB is not a disease, Mrs Belmonte stressed that she would rather be safe than sorry.

MOH says

MOH speaks

An MOH spokesman said TB mainly affects older adults: "A very small proportion of TB cases occur in children.

"In 2010, only four per cent of TB cases among Singapore residents occurred in persons below 20 years of age."

Recently, MOH and TBCU issued a letter and a set of frequently asked questions to all parents in Bedok Town Secondary School through the school.

Mr Chia said the school has informed staff and students of the latest case: "We have (also) contacted parents of the affected students to explain the nature of TB infection and screening, and to offer the school's support."

The number of new cases of TB is on the rise among Singaporeans and foreigners.

The MOH was alerted to 2,791 new cases last year, which is 10.9 per cent higher than the 2,517 in 2009.

Of the new cases, 1,478 were among residents.

Between January and June this year, there were 795 new cases of TB among residents.

In its September update on the TB situation, MOH attributed the rise to factors such as increased global travel and an increased transmission in the community due to a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

This article was first published in The New Paper.