MOH announces new clinical practice guidelines for tuberculosis

A white blood cell (dyed red) in the act of destroying tuberculosis bacteria (yellow).
A white blood cell (dyed red) in the act of destroying tuberculosis bacteria (yellow).PHOTO: MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR INFECTION BIOLOGY/VOLKER BRINKMANN

SINGAPORE - A new set of clinical practice guidelines on treating tuberculosis (TB) will be 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 workshop appointed by the MOH, the guidelines include outlining the use of TB diagnostic tools and treatment regiments, 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.

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

Of last year's new cases, 68 per cent were aged 50 and above, while 67 per cent were male. There were 144 relapsed cases .

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

Calling it a "global public health threat", the MOH noted that 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," a 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, failing to respond to treatment and future relapses.

The MOH's Directly Observed Treatment 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 are unable to commute to the clinics for their medication.