Children and staff screened for TB at Clementi pre-school

A staff member at a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots pre-school in Clementi was found with active tuberculosis.
A staff member at a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots pre-school in Clementi was found with active tuberculosis.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - A staff member at a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots pre-school in Clementi was found with active tuberculosis, triggering a mass screening of staff and children who had been in close contact with the infected staff.

As of Monday (March 20), a total of 66 staff and students at the pre-school located at Clementi Avenue 1 had been screened, the Health Ministry (MOH) confirmed in a statement on Tuesday (March 21).

So far, 45 tested negative and 21 more are still pending doctor's evaluation. All 66 do not suffer from active TB.

People with active TB infections often have a persistent cough that can spread the disease to others, while the latent version of the disease will not have any symptoms and is not infectious.

  • Frequently asked questions on TB

  • Q What is tuberculosis?
    A Tuberculosis, or TB, is a mycobacterial disease that usually affects the lungs.

    It can also affect other parts of the body, including the brain, lymph nodes, kidneys, bones and joints.

    It can be fatal if not treated properly, and the disease is a major cause of death and disability in many parts of the world.

    Initial infection usually goes unnoticed as a condition known as latent TB infection (LTBI).

    About a tenth of adults with healthy immune systems who have LTBI will eventually develop TB.

    Q How is TB spread?

    A The airborne disease is spread through fine respiratory droplets from an infected person.

    Those who have TB are most likely to spread it to people with whom they have close and prolonged contact, such as family members, friends and co-workers.

    One cannot contract TB from sharing eating utensils, food, cigarettes, or kissing or shaking hands.

    Q How is TB treated?

    A The disease is curable and treatment usually involves a combination of several drugs taken for six to nine months. More than 95 per cent of patients are cured if they take the prescribed medication. Multi- drug-resistant TB requires 20 to 24 months of treatment.

    Q How prevalent is TB here?

    A There were 1,498 new cases among Singapore citizens and permanent residents in 2015, bringing the incidence rate to 38.4 per 100,000 resident population. Singapore has the second-lowest incidence of TB in Asia, after Japan. Based on reported cases, it is more prevalent among older men.

    SOURCE: MINISTRY OF HEALTH

MOH and the Tuberculosis Control Unit (TBCU) were informed on March 3 that a staff member had fallen ill and diagnosed with a case of active TB. The staff member was immediately put on medical leave and began treatment.

TBCU contacted the school on the same day, and on March 6, it conducted a site visit to "further identify close contacts for follow-up screening", the statement said.

The outbreak was first reported on Channel 8 news on March 17, which said the centre was located at Block 420A.

MP for Jurong GRC Dr Tan Wu Meng said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (March 21) that he had asked PCF to be in touch with the authorities and asked MOH to support affected parents and students.

He told The Straits Times he had been contacted by concerned parents, some of whom were worried about the TB skin test or whether it would affect sick relatives at home.

Said Dr Tan: "Each family's support needs are unique, and we'll do our best to help...As the father of a young child, I can understand the worry felt by our Clementi parents. Any Clementi parents needing further assistance can contact me anytime."

TB is typically contracted after prolonged exposure to infected patients, instead of through objects or surfaces which the patient had touched, said MOH.

Only those who had been in close or prolonged contact were required to undergo screening, it added.

To test for TB, those aged five and above will be given a blood test. A chest X-ray is taken only if the doctors assessed that this is necessary. For children below five, a skin prick test is administered together with a chest X-ray. These screenings and consultations were offered for free, the statement said.

Some 90 per cent of patients, including majority of the 1,500 Singapore residents who develop TB every year, are cured. But treatment lasts at least six months, and requires a specific combination of drugs to be taken daily.

This is not the first time TB had been reported in a pre-school.

In August last year, Bukit Batok pre-school Little Greenhouse began screening its students and staff for latent TB after a teacher was diagnosed with it.

A female resident of the Peacehaven Bedok Day Centre was diagnosed with active TB in June that year and a total of 36 residents and centre staff were screened. Few were found to have latent TB.

In December 2015, there were five confirmed cases of TB among SMRT staff working around Tanah Merah, of which three are active TB cases.