tuberculosis has hit two Portlaoise primary schools, with teachers and children currently undergoing screening and treatment by the HSE.
Last February 17 an active case of TB was reported in a pupil of the Sacred Heart Convent, and on March 8, St Paul’s BNS were told a pupil there also had the contagious airborne disease, which if untreated, can be fatal.
In both cases, the HSE screened each child’s entire class with their parents present. Five children are now being given preventative treatment for latent TB at St Paul’s, but the figure at Sacred Heart is unconfirmed. Latent TB means the tuberculosis bacteria have been found in the body, but no symptoms have yet presented, and it is not contagious.
The principal of St Paul’s BNS Des Sutton has told the Leinster Express that he is very concerned.
“I understand the concerns of parents, I am a parent myself. This is not an outbreak. The test of the five children showed positive for coming in contact with the disease. They are all in school, and have been given appointments for extra screenings. We are working hand in hand with the HSE and following procedures extremely carefully. Our first priority is the children,” he said.
He sent out a letter and a TB factsheet to every parent of the 416 boys in the school yesterday, and is awaiting further advice from the HSE, if the next batch of screenings finds a child with active TB.
“We will see what happens, and take their advice then,” Mr Sutton said.
The Sacred Heart Convent has 375 pupils. Principal Enda Hickey said they are fully co-operating with the HSE on the matter.
“We cannot comment on private medical issues. As with all medical cases, we are full co-operating with the HSE, and have facilitated them in transmitting information to any parent needing to be informed,” said Mr Hickey.
Neither principal could confirm if the two children with active TB were well again, or attending school, for privacy issues.
Sean Fleming TD wants the HSE to handle the situation to the satisfaction of parents.
“The important thing is that all people identified as potentially having TB or latent TB, are provided with all medication required, and they are monitored and eventually fully cleared. I understand some children are starting a six month course of anitbiotics, The HSE need to reassure parents more than they are doing. It’s okay taking a clinical view, but they have to do it to parents satisfaction,” he said.
He said the process of diagnosing the disease was slow.
“The screening takes a few months, there are two screenings, then an x-ray. I can understand parents being worried,” he said.
Dep Fleming would not comment on possible causes for the resurgance of TB in Ireland, which was almost wiped out in the 1970’s following the introduction of childhood vaccinations.
“As a general principle I would like everyone in Ireland to be vaccinated,” he said.
In a statement to the Leinster Express, the HSE say the uptake of the vaccine for tuberculosis is high in the midlands.
“BCG vaccination, which helps to protect against TB, is offered to all infants at birth in Laois. There is a high uptake of BCG vaccine in the Midlands, 96% (Sept-Dec 2011).
Screening for TB involves two stages of a mantoux skin test, performed at least eight weeks apart. The children with abnormal readings were referred for a chest x-ray.
“Referrals to a consultant paediatrician were also made and preventative treatment commenced as appropriate. The school screening has not identified any new case of active TB to date. The two active cases are receiving appropriate treatment. TB is now curable with antibiotics. Modern anti-TB drugs are extremely effective and in nearly all cases, TB patients are not infectious after the first two weeks of treatment,” the spokesperson said.
Last July two prison officers and one prisoner contracted the contagious disease in Midlands Prison Portlaoise.