Children being screened for TB at Little Greenhouse preschool

Children being screened for TB at Little Greenhouse preschool

A school spokesperson said a teacher called in sick last Thursday (Aug 18) and reported that she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis the next day.

Little Greenhouse

SINGAPORE: Preschool children were being screened for latent tuberculosis (TB) on Wednesday (Aug 24) at Little Greenhouse's Bukit Batok branch, after a teacher was diagnosed with the disease.

Ms Ruth Kua, deputy chief operating officer of Global Eduhub which runs Little Greenhouse, said the teacher called in sick last Thursday and reported that she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis the next afternoon. The teacher has been with the school for more than a year.

She added that the teacher is currently on medical leave for about two weeks, after which her contract will be terminated as she will be on antibiotics for six to nine months.

Explaining the decision, Ms Kua said the school cannot afford to have children, who tend to have weaker immune systems, exposed to the sickness.

"Straight away on Saturday morning we sanitised the whole place and started calling all the parents to inform the parents that there was this issue."

According to a notice to parents, the school fumigated the premises on Saturday and arranged for cleaners to sanitise toys, furniture and other surfaces on Sunday.

The school said it worked closely with the Ministry of Health's (MOH) TB Control Unit on the follow-up steps and was conducting the blood tests on children after an officer visited the centre to assess the environment.

It needed the parents' consent before conducting the tests and sent out consent forms on Tuesday, while parents were spoken to individually about the steps being taken. Ms Kua added: "All the actions were taken immediately."

There are about 104 students and 20 staff members in the preschool, which has programmes for children aged two months to six years old. The students are being split into two groups for the blood tests, with the younger students being screened on Wednesday and an older group set to be tested on Friday, Ms Kua said.

TB screening
TB is endemic in Singapore and was prevalent locally until the 1970s.

A child after undergoing a blood test to screen for TB.

Parents will also be told to contact the TB Control Unit for x-rays to be taken of their children as a follow-up measure, the school said. The costs will be fully subsidised by MOH, added Ms Kua.

Classes will be continuing as usual, but the school denied that there was a higher risk of the infection spreading with the centre remaining open. "So far there has been no sign of anyone being sick, no sign of anyone coughing very badly ... According to the nurse the virus will only survive for four hours in the air. We sanitised the place and have been checking the students and telling anyone with cough or fever not to come to the school."

Ms Kua also told Channel NewsAsia that the school has received no instructions to close the centre.

"I spoke to nurses who came on Monday as I was pretty worried about what to do and whether I had missed out any steps. (They) told me it does happen to some childcares... There has been no news that we should close the centre as long as we continue to monitor and check the (students') temperatures, whether they are coughing and have fever."

Mr Te, whose child is enrolled in the school's K1 class and was at Little Greenhouse for the screening on Wednesday, said: "I'm worried for my child, because if he gets infected, myself, my family members will have to go for testing as well."

"Ideally I would like to keep him at home but I have to work. So we will see how to manage," Mr Te added.

Another parent told Channel NewsAsia that she is "not too overly worried" at the moment.

"Since (my daughter) is not directly in contact with the same class or the teacher, I'm not that worried," said Ms Xu Weixin, who has a two-year-old daughter in the playgroup class.

The prompt response from the school was important, she said. "They do write down the steps that we need to take so I feel that everything is handled properly."

Channel NewsAsia has reached out to MOH for comment.

Source: CNA/mz