Tan Chuan-Jin recovers fully from rare form of TB

Cabinet minister Tan Chuan-Jin has made a full recovery from a rare form of tuberculosis.
Cabinet minister Tan Chuan-Jin has made a full recovery from a rare form of tuberculosis.BH PHOTO: TUKIMAN WARJI

Disease non-infectious in his case; minister stresses importance of regular check-ups

Cabinet minister Tan Chuan-Jin has made a full recovery from a rare form of tuberculosis.

The Minister for Social and Family Development was diagnosed in February with pleural tuberculosis, which infected the area between his lungs and rib cage.

His doctor, Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, said it is a rare form of the disease, affecting 5 per cent of TB patients, and in Mr Tan's case, was non-infectious.

On Feb 26, the minister, who is known for his fitness, posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with pleural effusion, or a build-up of fluid between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity.

Giving further details of the illness on Tuesday, Mr Tan, 46, told The Straits Times: "It was unexpected, I did not know how I got it, but I was relieved that it was not cancer."

SEEK TREATMENT EARLY

It was not a big worry and I didn't feel that the medication and illness affected my work. Similar to my preventive work in MSF, healthcare issues are like social issues. If you know the symptoms, deal with it so that it doesn't get to a serious stage.

MR TAN CHUAN-JIN, Minister for Social and Family Development

Prof Loo, head of the department of respiratory and critical care medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, said that once Mr Tan started on medication, the infection was brought under control.

He also added that there was very little risk of Mr Tan spreading the disease to people he came into contact with because the infection was contained within his body.

Mr Tan said that in the early stage after he was diagnosed, he had taken steps to ensure that he did not come into contact with people.

He informed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong immediately after the diagnosis, he said. PM Lee was concerned and asked which hospital he was in and if he received adequate medical attention.

"I told my colleagues, grassroots leaders and residents who asked about my health, and explained what it was," he said.

In his Feb 26 Facebook post, Mr Tan said he had seen the doctor after experiencing chest pains.

He wrote: "The more important question is why it happened? What is the cause? Blood clot? TB? Infection?"

  • What is pleural TB?

  • In its common form, tuberculosis, better known as TB, is an airborne disease transmitted through fine respiratory droplets from an infected person.

    It usually affects the lungs but other parts of the body, such as the brain or kidneys, can also be affected.

    Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin had pleural tuberculosis, a rare form where the infection is in the area between the lungs and rib cage.

    Unlike the usual TB, it can be non-infectious because the bacteria reside in a confined space. Pleural TB makes up 5 per cent of TB cases.

    TB is otherwise usually infectious, and people living or working close to an untreated victim can catch the airborne bacteria. But two weeks of treatment will stop the person from spreading the disease.

    Symptoms include a persistent cough lasting more than three weeks, mild fever, weight loss and fatigue. It can be cured, but can be fatal if not treated. A full course of TB drug treatment typically lasts six to nine months.

    There were 1,454 new cases of TB among Singapore residents last year, a slight rise of 34 from 2013. In the past three decades, Singapore has had more than 1,000 new cases a year.

    While most patients are 40 years or older, some can be very young. In 2013, three were younger than 10 while another 40 were between 10 and 19 years old.

He was diagnosed with pleural TB soon after. He had the fluid drained out of his lungs and started on a course of medication which he is now at the tail end of.

Dr K. Thomas Abraham, chief executive officer of Sata CommHealth, a non-profit organisation that combats TB here, said: "Mr Tan would definitely be one of the higher-profile TB patients here and it shows us that anybody can contract it as the disease cuts across all socio-economic groups and demographics."

He added: "The key learning point then is to be aware of early warning symptoms and seek treatment early."

Of his illness, Mr Tan said: "It was not a big worry and I didn't feel that the medication and illness affected my work."

He said the episode is a reminder to people not to take their health for granted, and the importance of going for regular medical check-ups.

"Similar to my preventive work in MSF, healthcare issues are like social issues. If you know the symptoms, deal with it so that it doesn't get to a serious stage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Tan Chuan-Jin recovers fully from rare form of TB'. Print Edition | Subscribe