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'We should test all foreign workers for TB' -- doctor

TUBERCULOSIS screening has not been extended for all the "at-risk groups" in Ireland, the HSE has confirmed.

Experts have warned that foreign workers should be encouraged to attend voluntary clinics to screen for the infectious disease, and not just non-EU nationals.

President of the Irish Thoracic Society (ITS), Dr Terry O'Connor, said that non-EU nationals had to undergo a series of health checks.

Mr O'Connor, a consultant respiratory physician at Mercy University Hospital, said that the same should apply to immigrants from European countries.



Prison

The head of health protection with the HSE, Dr Kevin Kelleher, said that there was a need to screen other immigrants who were not asylum seekers and may be "not as easy to identify".

High risk groups also include people who have spent more than three months in such countries, prison inmates, homeless people, HIV-infected patients, healthcare workers and prison staff.

Earlier this year, an expert group recommended that groups who are likely to have been exposed to TB should be offered the test in order to pick up the infection early, treat it and prevent its spread.

A spokesman said asylum seekers were offered the test but no formal system was in place for immigrants, either legal or illegal, from countries with high rates of TB.

There is also no formal screening of the homeless or prisoners, but doctors would "informally" screen some individuals. HIV patients are routinely screened, but again no formal scheme is in place.

Health staff are screened as part of pre-employment tests but no similar system is in place for prison staff.

The latest revelations come as more than 220 pupils and staff at Ballintemple National School at Crab Lane in Cork city undergo screening for TB.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said that three children who attend the school contracted the disease and are under specialist paediatric care.

The children have started anti-tuberculous treatment -- a full course takes six to nine months.

So far, the source of the disease has not yet been identified.

Meanwhile, thousands of children and adults across the country are on waiting lists for the vaccine, it was revealed yesterday.

There is a backlog of 4,400 waiting for the BCG vaccine in Cork, where the latest outbreak was reported.

A HSE information line, 1800 742800, is open to deal with queries and assist parents from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

clairemurphy@herald.ie


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