TB screening measures for foreign domestic workers in place

We thank Ms Jaslin Huang for her feedback (Why was maid with TB allowed into country?; Dec 1).

Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are required to undergo a medical examination by a Singapore-registered doctor within two weeks of their arrival in Singapore, before they are issued with work permits.

The medical examination screens for four types of infectious disease of public health significance, namely, active TB, HIV, syphilis and malaria, to minimise the risk of local transmission and to check if they are fit for work.

Applicants found to have active TB will not be issued with work permits while those found to have lung scarring will be referred to the Tuberculosis Control Unit for further assessment.

Active TB screening is repeated two years after an FDW first arrives in Singapore, regardless of any change in employers.

Anyone who is free from TB may subsequently contract active TB from another infectious person.

This could be the case for Ms Huang's FDW who did not have active TB when she first entered Singapore.

Persons who tested negative for active TB may still carry latent TB germs, but these persons are not infectious.

TB is endemic in Singapore, and latent TB infection is not uncommon in our population.

In the vast majority of cases, the TB bacteria remains inactive in the body throughout their lives, and they do not spread TB to others.

In view of this, we do not routinely screen for latent TB, including for foreigners.

Screening for latent TB is, however, recommended for persons at high risk of developing active TB disease, such as those who were identified to have recent close contact with an infectious and active TB case, as the risk of progressing to active TB is higher in the initial period of infection.

While there are national control measures in place to reduce the risk of TB transmission in Singapore, everyone plays an important role in preventing the spread of TB.

Individuals who display symptoms of active TB, such as unexplained prolonged cough of three weeks or more, should seek medical attention early to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment.

We have contacted Ms Huang and wish her and her family well.

Lim Siok Peng (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

Penny Han (Mrs)

Controller of Work Passes

Ministry of Manpower

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'TB screening measures for foreign domestic workers in place'. Print Edition | Subscribe