Expert warns ‘hidden reservoirs’ of TB may lie behind Cork outbreak

WITH pupils of a Cork primary school set to undergo repeat screening for TB this week, a consultant in respiratory medicine has warned “hidden reservoirs” of the disease may be behind the latest outbreak.

Dr Cathal Bredin, a consultant respiratory physician at Cork University Hospital (CUH) said he believed these “hidden reservoirs” of TB account for the type of sudden outbreak currently afflicting Scoil Iosaf Naomha, Crab Lane, Ballintemple, in the suburbs of Cork city, where six pupils have been diagnosed with full-blown TB and 31 with latent TB infection.

Three staff have also been diagnosed with latent TB infection, which is not contagious.

“I would say those reservoirs are still there. They would account for the kind of out-of-the-blue episode we see in Crab Lane where no one has been identified as the source,” Dr Bredin said.

He said the “reservoirs” were a hangover from a time when TB was rampant in the country in the 1930s and 1940s; that people infected with TB in that period, who are now elderly, may be experiencing a reactivation of the disease, or secondary TB.

Dr Bredin believes more aggressive contact tracing is required to identify these reservoirs, as well as DNA fingerprinting.

He said he believes it unlikely that the source of infection behind the Crab Lane outbreak is in the school given that the highest rate of infection is among pupils considered too young to infect others.

“Children don’t have cavities in their lungs and generally speaking don’t cough up the bugs,” Dr Bredin said.

He also said he didn’t expect “many, if any” further cases of TB to be diagnosed in pupils at Scoil Iosaf Naomha in the second round of screening which begins this week.

Public health officials opted for repeat screening to rule out the possibility that children who tested negative for TB may now test positive based on the incubation period for the disease.

About 180 children at Scoil Iosaf Naomha are to be re-screened for the disease in the coming days.

Parents will be offered the opportunity to have their children vaccinated against TB at the screening clinics and will not have to join an extensive waiting list for the BCG.


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