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Residents of Jalan Bukit Merah block to be offered free TB screening after cluster of 7 cases found

Residents of Jalan Bukit Merah block to be offered free TB screening after cluster of 7 cases found

File photo of Block 2 Jalan Bukit Merah. (Photo: Google Street View)

SINGAPORE: Current and former residents of Block 2, Jalan Bukit Merah will be offered voluntary screening for tuberculosis after a cluster of seven cases was detected, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Saturday (May 21).

This is a precautionary measure after seven people who lived in seven different units at the block were diagnosed, said MOH.

The screening will be conducted free of charge between May 27 and May 31.

"Residents, stallholders, shop owners and employees of Block 2 Jalan Bukit Merah are strongly encouraged to participate in the TB screening," said MOH.

Mobile teams will be sent to flats in the block to carry out the screening for residents.

A screening station at the Queenstown Hock San Zone Residents’ Committee (RC) Centre at Block 3, Jalan Bukit Merah will also be set up for those working at the shops and stalls, as well as to cater to residents whose homes are not suitable for screening.

TUBERCULOSIS CLUSTER FIRST IDENTIFIED IN MARCH

MOH was notified on Mar 2 of seven tuberculosis cases involving residents living at Block 2, Jalan Bukit Merah. The residents were diagnosed between February 2021 and March 2022. All of them lived in different units.

MOH said the affected residents stated treatment immediately following diagnoses. Two of them have since completed treatment, while three are still undergoing treatment. Separately, two of those who were affected have since died "from causes not due to TB", said MOH.

"As individuals diagnosed with TB will rapidly become non-infectious once treatment starts, the cases are not an ongoing public health risk," the ministry said.

MOH said contact investigations for each of the seven cases were initiated shortly after notification.

Close contacts of the cases were identified and contacted for screening. Investigations for each of the seven cases at the time of their diagnosis did not identify each other as close contacts, said MOH.

GENETIC ANALYSIS

Genetic analysis and links - established in April this year - revealed that all seven cases had similar genetic make-up, suggesting that they were linked by spread from one or more common sources, said MOH.

However, investigations showed the cases had no links other than that they lived in the same block. They also did not know or interact with one another, or congregate at the same common areas, said the ministry.

"Therefore, as a precaution, we are offering screening for those in the block to diagnose any TB cases that may be present for early treatment," said MOH.

SCREENING STRONGLY ENCOURAGED

MOH said that staff from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), with support from the People’s Association, will visit flats at the affected block from May 21 to 23 to engage residents, as well as shop and stall owners and employees, and encourage them to participate in the screening.

It said that while the screening is not compulsory, it strongly encourages residents to do so to determine if they have tuberculosis disease or infection (which is non-infectious).

Those with tuberculosis disease will be treated immediately, while those with tuberculosis infection will be given follow-up appointments and offered treatment to minimise their risk of developing tuberculosis disease in the future.

Former residents and subtenants who resided in the block from October 2020 will be contacted via phone call in June 2022 and offered screening at the Tuberculosis Control Unit (TBCU). They can also call the TBCU appointment hotline at 6258 4430.

"The risk of transmission to persons who are not close contacts of a TB case is very low. Screening is thus not necessary for individuals who had occasionally visited the block or vicinity," said MOH.

MOH noted that tuberculosis is endemic in Singapore.

Tuberculosis infection is not uncommon in our population, as tuberculosis had been prevalent in Singapore until the 1970s and older Singaporeans could have been exposed to tuberculosis and acquired tuberculosis infection when they were younger.

Persons with tuberculosis infection do not experience symptoms of tuberculosis and are not infectious.

"TB is curable and the spread of TB is preventable. Early detection and prompt treatment of cases remain important in helping those infected and rendering them non-infectious," said MOH.

The symptoms of tuberculosis disease include a persistent cough that lasts three weeks or longer, low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and chest pain.

Source: CNA/aj

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