Focus on schools at centre of TB outbreaks

Dozens of schoolchildren, their teachers and families at two primary and secondary schools are being tested for TB after separate outbreaks of the life-threatening condition.

Children and staff at an unnamed secondary school in Loughrea, Co Galway, were handed formal HSE letters yesterday evening warning they need to be immediately screened for the serious illness.

The move came after a 16-year-old pupil at the facility was last week diagnosed with an extremely aggressive drug resistant form of TB, which unlike normal strains has mutated to effectively outgun existing medications.

The public health emergency, revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, emerged at the same time as at least five children aged under 12 were hospitalised after a separate TB outbreak in a midlands primary school.

A HSE West spokesperson declined to provide any further details on the Galway outbreak yesterday, and did not confirm the number for a planned public information hotline due to be set up last night.

However, separate sources have confirmed the school at the centre of the Galway outbreak is based in Loughrea.

There are at least two secondary schools in the area, which together cater for almost a thousand teenagers.

The 16-year-old at the centre of this outbreak is currently undergoing treatment in isolation at the Merlin Park Hospital on the outskirts of Galway City, which in previous decades has been used as a TB facility.

The separate midlands outbreak initially occurred in March among third-class pupils at St Paul’s National School, Co Laois.

After one pupil was found to have contracted normal TB, all other pupils and staff were tested.

It has now emerged at least five children are receiving treatment at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.

While TB is widely considered to have ceased to be the scourge of the country since the 1950s, when roughly 7,000 people were diagnosed every year, more than 400 cases are still recorded every 12 months.

Across Europe, there is also growing concern over multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB), both of which pose a significant threat to life as they are effectively immune to standard treatments.

Last September, the World Health Organisation launched a major public health plan to combat both strains until 2015 after an “alarming rise” in cases.

Among the high-profile cases of the normal TB strain in recent years was an outbreak at Scoil Iósaf Naomha in Ballintemple, Cork, in autumn 2010, when 47 children and staff were infected. The cause of this outbreak has never been revealed.


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