All doctors to get clinical guidelines on treating TB

Slight rise in number of cases last year, with 5 residents infected with more severe strain

A new set of clinical practice guidelines on treating tuberculosis (TB) will be made available to all doctors from next month.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) made the announcement on World Tuberculosis Day yesterday to address the need for early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Developed by a clinical workgroup appointed by the MOH, the guidelines include outlining the use of TB diagnostic tools and treatment regimens, as well as providing information on public health measures for TB control.

"TB is curable and the spread of TB is preventable," an MOH spokesman said.

"While there are currently national measures in place to reduce the risk of ongoing transmission in Singapore, each of us plays an important role in keeping our community free of TB."

If not treated early, TB can lead to permanent lung damage and other life-threatening complications.

STAVING OFF THREAT

TB is curable and the spread of TB is preventable. While there are currently national measures in place to reduce the risk of ongoing transmission in Singapore, each of us plays an important role in keeping our community free of TB.

A HEALTH MINISTRY SPOKESMAN

Last year, there were 1,498 new cases among Singapore residents, up from the 1,454 cases in 2014, MOH figures show.

Of last year's new patients, 68 per cent were aged 50 years and older, and 67 per cent were male. There were 144 relapse cases.

The incidence rate stood at 38.4 cases per 100,000 population last year, compared with 37.4 in 2014.

Calling it a "global public health threat", the MOH noted that there are more than nine million cases of TB in the world every year, with about 1.5 million deaths.

The ministry also highlighted the emergence of a multi-drug-resistant strain of TB as a "serious public health challenge".

Last year, five Singaporeans and permanent residents were diagnosed with this condition, which is said to be more difficult to treat and cure than other strains. The global death rate from this strain of TB is currently as high as 40 per cent.

"The number of such cases must be kept low, despite a higher regional prevalence, through strong emphasis on treatment compliance under the national TB control programme," an MOH spokesman said.

The ministry has advised people who display symptoms such as an unexplained prolonged cough of three weeks or longer to seek early medical attention.

It is also necessary for patients to complete the full course of TB treatment, which may last six to nine months - otherwise they could face a higher chance of developing a resistance to the drug, failure to respond to treatment and future relapses.

The MOH's Directly Observed Treatment (DOT) programme consists of daily administration of TB medicine by a trained nurse at a polyclinic. An outreach DOT programme is also available for those who cannot visit the clinics for their medication.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'All doctors to get clinical guidelines on treating TB'. Print Edition | Subscribe