Students diagnosed with tuberculosis in the city

Three students have been diagnosed with tuberculosis recently at two third level colleges in the city. Two are attending NUI Galway and one is a student at GMIT.

A spokeperson for the HSE West said they are responding to treatment and are “doing well”. The health authority said it has tested contacts of the affected students and is working closely with both colleges.

The health authority stated it does not give details in relation to individuals affected as it is standard public health practice not to provide this information where there are small numbers. This is to ensure that people are not identified. This policy is also the case for conditions, such as HIV, Ecoli, etc.

“The Department of Public Health in the HSE West has been investigating two cases of tuberculosis in NUI Galway and one case in GMIT,” said the HSE in a statement.

“As part of the usual investigations for TB, public health doctors have been testing contacts of the cases (family, friends, colleagues ) and are working closely with both institutions. This is a type of TB that responds to routine antibiotics and all three students are doing well.

It is understood that a number of contacts of the Galway students have developed latent TB. All are now on appropriate anti-TB antibiotics and are well. None of these people is considered infectious.

The overall risk of transmission of this highly infectious disease, which usually affects the lungs is considered to be low, according to the health authority.

“Although the risk to other students and staff in this situation is low people should be aware of the symptoms and seek advice if they develop any. The disease is caught by breathing in bacteria in tiny droplets which are coughed by someone who has TB in their lungs. In most people the body’s immune system deals with the bacteria before they start to cause symptoms and the person does not become ill.

“Infection with the TB germ may not always develop into TB disease. Most people who are exposed to TB are able to overcome the bacteria. The bacteria become inactive, but they can remain dormant (asleep ) in the body and may become active later. This is called latent TB infection (LTBI ). People with latent TB cannot spread the infection to other people, do not have TB symptoms, may never develop active TB, do not pose a risk to their family, and can continue their work etc. as normal. People with LTBI may be offered a simple, short course of TB medication to remove the TB bacteria.”

Active TB can occur in different parts of the body, the HSE statement outlines. “In most people with active TB their lungs are affected, causing symptoms such as persistent cough, weight loss, fever, night sweats and coughing up blood. Symptoms in other parts of the body depend on where the TB infection is.”

If left untreated tuberculosis can cause serious illness, the HSE West warns. “When a person is diagnosed with TB, people who have been in close contact are offered screening tests to check if they are infected. This is called ‘contact tracing’ and can involve screening close contacts like family, friends and others living with the person with TB. People invited for screening will be offered a skin test for TB called a Mantoux test.”

People mistakenly believe that the disease has been eradicated in this country. However, there are a number of cases each year. In 2013 there were 384 cases nationally. The combination of better living conditions, antibiotics against TB, and BCG vaccine have dramatically reduced the number of cases of the disease. The people most likely to catch TB are the very young, older people and those with an immune system weakened either by illness or certain medications.

In separate statements NUI Galway and GMIT stated that both colleges are working closely with the Department of Public Health in the HSE West.

They outlined that students and staff have been alerted to two cases of TB among the student population at NUI Galway and one at GMIT. The statements outlined that the affected students are responding well to treatment.

“The type of TB in question is responsive to routine antibiotics and students have been advised that there is little cause for alarm. TB used to be very common in Ireland. In the 1950s there were up to 7,000 cases each year. This has reduced greatly: in 2013 there were 384 cases notified across Ireland.” Both colleges are liaising with each other on the matter.

What is TB?

Tuberculosis or TB, is caused by a bacterium - a germ called the tubercle bacillus or mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes (glands ), bones, joints and kidneys and it can rarely cause meningitis. It is most commonly spread by the respiratory route: when a person with infectious TB of the lungs coughs or sneezes they produce infectious droplets which can be breathed in by another person. However, TB is generally spread only after quite close and prolonged contact with an infectious person such as a person living in the same household or with a similar degree of contact.

What are the symptoms of TB?

Tuberculosis develops slowly in the body and it may take months for symptoms to appear.

Any of the following may be a sign of TB:

• Fever and night sweats

• Cough for more than three weeks

• Losing weight

• Blood in your sputum (spit/phlegm )

Can anyone get TB?

Yes. However, you are at greater risk if you live in the same house as the person who is sick or if you are in very close contact with them. Only a small number of people who breathe in the TB germ get sick. This can happen within a couple of months or many years later.

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