The National University Hospital (NUH) is recalling 178 paediatric patients, including 131 under the age of two years who had been cared for by a nurse who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) last Friday.
The recalled patients from the hospital's children ward includes 34 children who have received a transplanted organ. These children are on immunosuppression drugs and therefore at higher risk than normal children.
It has been reported that Associate Professor Daniel Goh, head of paediatrics at NUH commented that the risk of any of the children contracting TB from the nurse is "very low", especially as she had donned a mask while working.
The nurse was treated at a General Practioner clinic for her cough in July, was not diagnosed with TB even after having her chest x-ray taken. She was then given antibiotics.
As her cough persisted, she sought treatment again on Wednesday last week and was given a CT scan which showed a possible TB patch in her lung the size of a 50-cent coin. She told the hospital on the same day and was tested for TB. The results which came out on Friday, confirmed she had TB but was diagnosed as the normal TB and not multi-drug-resistant variety.
Dr Goh said his team spent the weekend trawling through the patient database to identify patients who might have had long exposure to her while warded, as well as those who are deemed at higher risk because of their age or disease.
Mr Joe Sim, NUH's chief executive officer, said: "We fully understand the anxiety of the parents and are taking this matter seriously."
The first patients were at NUH for screening on Tuesday and more will be screened over the coming weeks.
They will have a chest X-ray to check for TB, and blood tests if aged five or older, and/or skin tests to see if they have the bug latent in them.
The nurse, who is currently on medical leave for two weeks, will be able to resume work as being on treatment and her colleagues in the ward have all been tested and said to be negative.
Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is a bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in your body. It is most often found in the lungs.
Most people who are exposed to TB never develop symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body. But if the immune system weakens, such as in people with HIV or elderly adults, TB bacteria can become active. In their active state, TB bacteria cause death of tissue in the organs they infect. Active TB disease can be fatal if left untreated. Because the bacteria that cause tuberculosis are transmitted through the air, the disease can be contagious.
TB is a treatable and curable disease. Active, drug-susceptible TB disease is treated with a standard 6 month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs that are provided with information, supervision and support to the patient by a health worker or trained volunteer. The vast majority of TB cases can be cured when medicines are provided and taken properly.
According to World Health Organisation's data, Singapore's rate of successful treatment of new TB cases in 2014 is 77%.
It is said that 1,252 new TB cases have been diagnosed in Singapore since the start of the year. In 2014, there were 2171 notified cases of TB (new cases and relapse) with 9 deaths as a result of the disease.