Total number of TB cases in Singapore falls for 4th straight year

Bukit Merah residents get their blood drawn during a tuberculosis screening on June 25, 2022. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The total number of tuberculosis (TB) cases in Singapore fell for the fourth straight year in 2022, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday, adding that the disease remains a global public health threat.

There were 1,251 new cases of active TB among Singapore residents in 2022, a slight drop from the 1,300 cases registered in 2021. According to latest available data from the Registry of Births and Deaths, there were 11 TB-related deaths in 2021, 10 fewer than a year ago in 2020, when there were 1,360 cases registered.

Older people aged 50 and above constituted more than three quarters of all cases, while the number of men (846) with active TB in Singapore was more than twice that of women (405) in 2022.

While TB is endemic in Singapore, it remains a public health threat.

About 170 people in a Jalan Bukit Merah neighbourhood tested positive for TB in 2022. Common symptoms include cough with phlegm or blood, chest pains and night sweats.

MOH noted that “latent TB infection is not uncommon in our population, with rates of up to 30 per cent in the older age groups”.

When the bacteria that causes TB is latent in the body, there are no symptoms and the disease is not contagious. However, a diagnosis of active TB is made when there are symptoms. Those exposed to patients with active TB may get infected, said the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

There were more than 10.6 million global cases of active TB in 2021, with 1.6 million resulting in death, according to the World Health Organisation. After Covid-19, TB was the second-most deadly infectious disease that year.

It can be transmitted through close and prolonged exposure to individuals infected with untreated, active TB, MOH said.

TB is curable with appropriate medical treatment, while its spread can be curtailed through measures such as contact tracing and health screening.

MOH said those diagnosed with TB can be put on a treatment plan lasting around six to nine months, noting that people who do not adhere to their treatment are at risk of a relapse and developing a stronger variant known as multi-drug resistant TB (MDRTB).

Singapore reported six MDRTB cases in 2022, while nearly half a million cases were registered globally in 2021. When TB becomes resistant to drug treatment, death rates can rise to as high as 58 per cent.

Once treatment begins, people with active TB become non-infectious and cease to become contagious, Singapore’s health authorities said.

TB affects mostly the lungs, but other organs, such as the kidneys and brain, are susceptible to the disease too.

On Friday, which was World TB Day, MOH urged individuals who are unwell and display symptoms to seek medical advice and prompt diagnosis. Close contacts should be screened for the disease to protect the community.

Sata CommHealth and Tan Tock Seng Hospital announced on Friday that they would be renewing the Dot and Shop incentive scheme to encourage TB patients to stick to their treatment programme.

Under the programme, eligible patients who comply with their treatment plans are given grocery vouchers at each clinic visit, typically on a monthly basis. Transport expenses are also given to patients under the Dot and Shop programme.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.