TB cluster detected in Bukit Merah block, free screening for residents

National Centre for Infectious Diseases staff doing door-to-door visits at Block 2 Jalan Bukit Merah on May 21, 2022. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
For the convenience of residents, mobile teams will go to their homes to carry out the screening. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLEMAPS

SINGAPORE - Residents, stallholders and shop owners in Block 2 Jalan Bukit Merah have been urged by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to go for a voluntary screening for tuberculosis (TB).

MOH said on Saturday (May 21) that the screenings will be conducted free of charge, and will take place from next Friday till the following Tuesday (May 27 to 31).

The screening is a precautionary measure after a cluster of seven individuals there were diagnosed with TB between February and March this year, MOH said.

TB is an infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria which mainly affects the lungs. 

Symptoms of TB include persistent cough which can last three weeks or longer, low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and chest pain. 

The individuals reside across seven different units in the block, said MOH.

For the convenience of residents, mobile teams will go to their homes to carry out the screening.

Those working in the area, or whose homes are deemed unsuitable for the screening, can go to a screening station located at Queenstown Hock San Zone Residents' Committee (RC) Centre at Block 3 Jalan Bukit Merah.

Those who have lived or worked in the block from October 2020 onwards will be contacted by MOH via phone from June onwards and offered screening at the TB Control Unit (TBCU) in Moulmein Road.

Former residents who have lived in the block from October 2020 and wish to be screened may also call the TBCU Contact Clinic appointment hotline on 62584430.

MOH said that the risk of transmission is very low between a TB patient and individuals who are not close contacts, and added that screening will not be necessary for those who occasionally visit the block and its surrounding areas.

Of the seven TB cases, two have died of causes not related to TB, three are currently undergoing treatment while the last two have already completed treatment. 

MOH said that individuals diagnosed with TB rapidly become non-infectious once they begin treatment and as such, the cases are not an ongoing public health risk.

A genetic analysis of the individuals done in April revealed a similar genetic make-up in the seven cases, suggesting that the cases are linked to at least one common source. 

In its statement, MOH said that its investigations revealed that the individuals did not know or interact with one another, and they did not identify each other as close contacts.

No other common links were found aside from the fact that the people are living in the same block.

MOH added that the screening is therefore done to identify any existing TB cases and refer these people for treatment.

When The Straits Times spoke to residents and shopkeepers on Saturday afternoon, many responded that they were appreciative of the screening efforts.

Madam Ang, the owner of a furniture shop on the ground floor who declined to give her full name, said that staff from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) had given out letters earlier in the day informing residents and shopkeepers of the situation.

Speaking in Mandarin, the 57-year-old shopkeeper said: “They (NCID staff) encouraged us to make an appointment so that we would not have to queue. 

“I was afraid at first because they will have to draw my blood but it is still good to be cautious.”

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Eric Chua (in red) and NCID's Professor Leo Yee Sin (in blue), visit residents of Block 2 Jalan Bukit Merah on May 21, 2022. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The daughter of an elderly woman, both who declined to be identified, said that the NCID staff had come around 11am and that the MP for the area, Mr Eric Chua, had also explained the situation.

Speaking from her 13th floor unit, the woman said: “My mother just came back from overseas and so she was not sure of what is going on.”

“I had to explain to her but she said that she is not too worried about the situation.”

Coffee shop assistant Tan Yah Kwang, 57, said that he, too, was unaware of the TB situation in his block until he was given the letter by NCID staff.

Mr Tan, a resident of the block for more than three decades,  said: “I’ve made an appointment for them (NCID mobile team) to come at a convenient time. If not, I already have a medical check-up scheduled in the next few months.

“I haven’t heard of TB in such a long time, but I think there’s nothing to worry about.”

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