HSE continues to monitor ‘contacts’ of third level students with TB

No new cases of tuberculosis have been identified in the city since last month when three third level students were diagnosed with the bacterial infection.

Two of the students are attending NUI Galway and one is a student at GMIT. A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive said at the time that they were responding well to treatment.

The health authority told this newspaper yesterday (Wednesday ) that it is continuing to monitor contacts of the cases.

“The Department of Public Health are continuing to monitor contacts of the cases (family, friends, colleagues ). No new cases have been identified since.”

The HSE does not give information about the individuals affected. It said it is standard public health practice not to provide details 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 local students have a strain of tuberculosis which responds to routine antibiotics. It is understood that a number of their contacts developed a latent form of the disease. 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, the health authority stated earlier.

“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 outlined. “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.”

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