Two tuberculosis clusters identified at Bedok outlet of S'pore Pools

The cases did not know one another and had not identified one another as close contacts.
The cases did not know one another and had not identified one another as close contacts.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Two separate tuberculosis clusters involving a total of 18 people who visited the Singapore Pools Bedok Betting Centre have been identified.

No common links have been found other than that they all frequently visited the Bedok centre over periods ranging from months to years and spent prolonged stretches there watching horse-racing telecasts.

The cases did not know one another and had not identified one another as close contacts.

Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs, and spreads through tiny droplets released into the air by coughs and sneezes.

While it is highly contagious, patients rapidly become non-infectious once treatment starts.

The last TB cluster was detected last October at Block 174D Hougang Avenue 1, after four people staying in four different units were found to be infected.

The 18 cases from the two new clusters were diagnosed between February 2015 and October last year.

The link was established among five cases in the first cluster diagnosed between July 2018 and February last year, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) was notified on July 28 last year.

The 13 cases in the second cluster were diagnosed between February 2015 and October last year and brought to the attention of the MOH between Dec 1 last year and Jan 11.

"The cases had immediately started treatment following diagnosis and are not a current ongoing public health risk," said the MOH on Wednesday (Jan 20) evening, adding that the risk of transmission to people who are not close contacts is very low.

TB can be cured with a combination of different drugs taken for six to nine months.

The disease was prevalent in Singapore until the 1970s, so older folk could have acquired an infection when younger. It is estimated that between 2 and 29 per cent of Singaporeans have latent TB infections.

People with latent TB do not experience symptoms and are not infectious but about 10 per cent of this group may develop active TB over the course of their lifetime.

Symptoms of an active infection may include a persistent cough that lasts at least three weeks, low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and chest pain.

Close contacts of all the 18 cases have already been contacted by the Singapore TB Elimination Programme (Step) for screening. As a precaution, patrons who visited the Singapore Pools Bedok Betting Centre between Feb 12 and March 25 last year will also be contacted for screening.

This will be done free of charge at the Tuberculosis Control Unit (TBCU) at 142 Moulmein Road.

Voluntary screening will also be offered to patrons who spent prolonged periods of cumulative days at the betting centre between 2018 and March 25 last year.

"The health and safety of our employees, customers and the public are our top priority. We are providing full assistance to... Step," the Singapore Pools said on Wednesday evening.

"We encourage (customers) who are contacted by STEP for screening to do so."

A Singapore Pools spokesman added that additional preventive measures have been put in place at the Bedok centre, including extra fans to improve air flow.

"Staff have been reminded to look out for customers who may be in poor health, especially if they're coughing, and to advise them to see a doctor. In addition, we are looking to install ultraviolet germicidal radiation machines before it resumes live-betting operations in the coming months," the spokesman said.

More information can be found at the Tuberculosis Control Unit on 6258-3142 or via e-mail and the Singapore Pools customer service hotline on 6786-6688.

Patrons who want to be screened can also call the TBCU hotline on 6258-4430.