SINGAPORE: A total of 1,370 new cases of active tuberculosis (TB) were recorded in Singapore last year, the lowest in more than 10 years, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday (Mar 24).
The figure was the lowest since 2007 when 1,256 cases were reported, data showed.
Correspondingly, the incidence rate last year was 33.9 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 34.7 the previous year.
Among the Singapore resident cases, the majority or 79.5 per cent were born in Singapore, said MOH.
Older age groups and men continue to make up a significant proportion of the new cases, the ministry said. Of the 1,370 new cases, 985 cases or 71.9 per cent were aged 50 and older. A total of 888 of the new cases or 64.8 per cent were men.
There were also 105 relapsed TB cases among Singapore residents, of whom 82 or 78.1 per cent were born in Singapore.
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TB is an airborne disease transmitted through close and prolonged exposure to an infectious person suffering from untreated and active pulmonary TB. However, not all who are exposed will be infected.
"TB is endemic in Singapore and latent TB infection is not uncommon in our population, with rates of up to 30 per cent in the older age groups," said the health ministry.
In 2019, more than 10 million cases of active TB were recorded globally, with 1.4 million deaths. There were also almost half a million multi-drug resistant TB (MDRTB). This type of TB is more difficult to treat and has lower cure rates, with death rates as high as 30 to 40 per cent.
In Singapore, two cases of MDRTB were recorded last year. One was a Singapore-born resident and the other was a foreign-born resident, said MOH.
However, the ministry said that the disease is curable and the spread of TB is preventable.
To ensure early detection and treatment, as well as to curtail the spread of the disease, the national TB programme carries out contact tracing and screening of close contacts to ensure that those at risk of infection are tested and receive the appropriate treatment.
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People diagnosed with active TB will be started on treatment immediately and placed on medical leave. Once treatment starts, they will rapidly become non-infectious and no longer be a source of infection.
"There is no further risk of exposure in the workplace or school, and there is therefore no need for workplaces or places where a recently diagnosed active TB case has visited to be closed," said MOH.
Close contacts found to have latent TB infection are not infectious and can continue their activities as usual.
To prevent the spread of the disease, anyone who is unwell and display symptoms such as coughing should seek medical attention early to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment.
The full course of active TB treatment takes six to nine months and up to 24 months for drug-resistant TB. There is a higher chance of disease relapse and developing MDRTB if patients do not adhere strictly to the treatment programme, such as taking their medication on time, said the ministry.