HSE refuses to discuss TB outbreak

SENIOR health managers declined to discuss at a public forum one of the country’s worst outbreaks of TB in recent years.

Pat Healy, the regional director of operations for the Health Service Executive (HSE) South, told members of the HSE regional health forum meeting that it would not be appropriate to have a public debate on the outbreak in Cork, which has infected at least 40 people, until the investigation is complete.

“This approach is in line with international best practice,” Mr Healy said.

The outbreak was identified at Scoil Iósaf Naofa, at Crab Lane in the Ballintemple area of the city in late August.

But despite a lengthy screening procedure, public health experts have been unable to identify the source of the outbreak, or the strain of TB involved.

The most recent figures show that six children have active or full-blown TB, 31 have latent infection and three staff have also been diagnosed with latent TB, bringing the overall rate of infection to 40.

Public health specialists said this outbreak has exhibited “an extraordinarily high rate of attack” and they have taken the unusual step of offering a second round of screening to all pupils, who are also being offered the BCG vaccine.

Fine Gael Cllr John Buttimer called on senior HSE officials yesterday to publish all reports relevant to the outbreak.

“This is only public forum in which we can get answers. This is a very serious outbreak in Cork. There is a very serious public health issue,” he said.

He also pointed out a fifth of the 470 cases of TB diagnosed across the country in 2008 were in the Cork area.

But Mr Healy said the matter should be dealt with at a meeting of the HSE South’s Primary Community Continuing Care (PCCC) committee, which does not meet in public.

He said Dr Elizabeth Keane, the HSE South’s director of public health, will give a presentation on TB to forum members at that meeting which is due to take place over the coming weeks.

“We have no problem giving you the information. The appropriate manner in which this should be dealt with is in PCCC and recommendations should come from that committee back before the forum,” he said.

The regional forum is due to meet again in October to discuss any recommendations that might come from the PCCC meeting.

Figures presented at yesterday’s meeting show that of the 470 cases of TB in Ireland in 2008, 224 were in the HSE East region, and 96 in the HSE South region.

Just over half of all cases (56.4%) were in Irish-born people, with 39.6% of cases in foreign-born people. The vast majority of TB cases (288) were men.

TB is an infection caused by a germ called mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects the lungs, but any part of the body may be affected. Close contact with a person with TB who is coughing up phlegm, increases the risk of infection.


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