TB cases fall for the first time in five years, figures released by Health Ministry show

A doctor in Britain points to an x-ray showing a pair of lungs infected with tuberculosis. The number of new tuberculosis cases fell in 2013, the first decrease in five years, figures released by the Health Ministry on Monday showed. -- PHOTO: R
A doctor in Britain points to an x-ray showing a pair of lungs infected with tuberculosis. The number of new tuberculosis cases fell in 2013, the first decrease in five years, figures released by the Health Ministry on Monday showed. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

The number of new tuberculosis cases fell in 2013, the first decrease in five years, figures released by the Health Ministry on Monday showed. March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day.

Aside from the 1,420 new cases - down from 1,560 in 2012 - 119 tuberculosis (TB) patients had a relapse, said the MOH.

It stressed that it is important for all patients to complete their treatment, which typically lasts six months, to prevent further transmission. Not completing their treatment also puts them at risk of developing drug resistance.

To make it cheaper for TB patients, Tan Tock Seng Hospital will levy a flat $10 fee for Singaporeans and $15 for permanent residents from April that will cover consultation, basic investigation and laboratory tests.

The cost of medicine is already borne by the MOH for patients on the Directly Observed Therapy, where they have to turn up at a polyclinic either daily, or several times a week, over six to nine months of treatment.

This is considered the best way to treat TB, as patients need to take many pills, some of which are bitter, leading some to stop treatment halfway , especially when they feel better. In 2013, the Chinese (980) accounted for most of the TB cases, followed by Malays (294), with low numbers for Indians (93) and others (53).

Over the past three decades, Singapore has been diagnosing more than 1,000 new cases every year among residents.

While most TB patients are 40 years and older, there are some very young sufferers. In 2013, there were three patients under age 10 and another 40 aged 10 to 19.

TB is infectious and people living or working close to an untreated sufferer can catch the airborne bacteria. But the sufferer stops spreading the disease after two weeks of treatment.