Inis Oirr TB screening programme completed

A TB screening programme conducted by the HSE West in Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, has been completed.

The initiative came in the wake of an outbreak of tuberculosis on the island.

The health authority’s Department of Public Health has been investigating the issue since November. It says there was no particular reason for the outbreak other than there are people with TB in the community.

In line with best medical practice and national guidelines the Department of Public Health offered screening for the island’s population (250 residents ) in February. This helped identify people who may need treatment to prevent the spread of infection. However, the HSE said the risk of transmission of the disease was considered to be low.

It declined to say how many people tested positive for TB. “We do not give details on numbers of people affected as it is standard public health practice not to provide numbers where there are small populations. This is to ensure that individual people are not identified; this is the case for TB, HIV, E. coli, etc,” explained a spokesperson for the health authority.

Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, the director of public health with the HSE West, said all cases of reported TB close contacts on the island and the mainland were screened first.

“As there is a lot of social contact in a small island community screening was offered to the entire resident population as an added precautionary measure.

“A large majority of people accepted this offer. People who have evidence of exposure to TB but no active infection are also being treated and monitored as appropriate.”

He stated that Inis Oirr is now probably the safest place in Ireland in terms of TB. “The risk of transmission is likely to be less there than anywhere else.”

He thanked the community for their co-operation during the screening process.

While the number of cases of TB has been decreasing over the years it is still a disease that needs to be monitored, he said earlier.

“People are screened to ensure they are not infected or capable of infecting others. It may seem unusual to screen a full population but with approximately 250 people on the island it is comparable to screening a school or a factory. The community on the island is a close knit one and we want to ensure that everyone is offered screening.”

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. It can be spread by breathing in the bacteria in tiny droplets sneezed or coughed by someone who has TB in their lungs. In most people the body’s immune system kills the bacteria before it starts to cause symptoms and the person does not become ill. While TB usually affects the lungs it can also affect other parts of the body, including the glands, the bones and rarely the brain.

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.

TB disease is preventable and curable but if left untreated it can be a very serious illness. It used to be very common in Ireland. In the early 1950s there were up to 7,000 cases each year. The incidence of the disease has declined steadily since then. In 2008, there were 470 cases notified in Ireland. In 2010 there were 427 cases recorded, 21 of these people lived in the HSE West (Galway, Mayo, Roscommon ) area. Provisional figures for last year indicate there were 371 cases notified nationally, 32 of these were in HSE West region.

The condition is treated with tablets which must be taken for at least six months. It is essential to take the treatment regularly and to complete the course as prescribed.

Doctors are obliged to notify each case of TB to the local departments of public health in the HSE. The statistics are published on the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre website www.hpsc.ie - these are listed on a national basis to ensure individuals are not identified.

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