Experts probe outbreak cause as TB cases rise

13th April 2001 at 01:00
CHILDREN at primary and secondary schools in the Leicester area may be screened for tuberculosis after the case toll rose above 30.

Officials revealed that a nine-year-old girl at another school in the city died from TB last October.

As The TES went to press scientists were meeting to discuss the best way to tackle the outbreak. One option was to test all 5,000 pupils at Leicester primary and secondary schools.

Public health officials decided to bring forward plans to test pupils aged 15 and 16 at Crown Hills Community College after a 15-year-old was confirmed last Friday as sharing early signs of the disease.

The number of confirmed cases is now higher than at any time since the disease was brought under control in the 1980s.

Year 11 students will be screened today. Previously, pupils in Years 10 and 11 were to be spared because they had been vaccinated before the programme was suspended two years ago when stocks of the BCG vaccine ran out.

One student is in hospital but of those affected most are in the early stages and are not infectious.

The source of the outbreak has not yet been pinpointed and health officials think more cases are inevitable.

TB experts will meet in the city today to map out the cases and try to identify a pattern. But the arrival of the Easter holiday will make efficient screening more difficult. A Department of Health spokesman said:

"It makes it harder from a practical point of view. But even when children are atschool, there is unlikely to be 100 per cent coverage. We were notified by a GP of another case in a pupil who had been off school for two weeks."

For Gary Coleby, Crown Hills headteacher, the holidays may come as a relief. He is more used to dealing with good news stories, thanks to the rapid improvements the school has made in the past few years. Coping with the disruption of mass screening and the influx of media has been difficult but made easier by parental support, he said.

All those infected have been given the standard course of antibiotic TB treatment. Others who had strongly positive skin-prick tests, indicating low-level infection, have been given a shorter course to keep the disease at bay.

TB is common in south-east Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. In Leicester, where nearly a third of the population is not white, the infection rate has been about four times the national average. Ninety-three per cent of Crown Hills' 1,200 pupils have an Asian background.

Geoff Rawnsley, chairman of the school's governors, said screening for TB would continue through the Easter holidays and should be completed by the time pupils returned to classes.

"So far there are only two people who have had to go to hospital, with relatively mild forms."

A case of TB has been confirmed in an unidentified school in Newport, Gwent. All children from the same year have been given skin test screening and the results were being assessed as The TES went to press.

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