Health department allows Hong Kong school to remain open after tuberculosis outbreak
Eight people at Kiangsu-Chekiang College (Sha Tin) had contracted the disease but are now recovered or in stable condition
The Department of Health stopped short on Wednesday of ordering a Sha Tin secondary school to close after a tuberculosis outbreak prompted 70 pupils and teachers to undergo screenings for the disease.
Officials at Kiangsu-Chekiang College (Sha Tin) said they would ask the department to offer further X-rays and blood tests so all school staff and pupils – more than 1,000 people – could have their safety ensured.
Six pupils and one female teacher from the school contracted the infectious disease after a Form Four pupil was first diagnosed in September, the department’s Dr Leung Chi-chiu said.
All those affected were in stable condition. The Form Four pupil is on sick leave and resting at home and one woman teacher is still in hospital. Other infected pupils had recovered and were back in school but required to wear face masks.
“There is no need to suspend school due to TB,” Leung said on Wednesday. “Except the one pupil who was the source of infection, all other people were diagnosed with latent TB, which has no symptoms and low transmittable ability.”
About a quarter of the global population is infected with latent TB, according to the World Health Organisation, and about 10 per cent of them will become active TB at some point as they grow older, more likely when they reach 65 or above.
Leung said TB was a curable disease, stressing the situation was under control and he would not expect a spread of the disease in the community.
But the vice-principal of the school, Lau Chi-ip, said the school asked the department to broaden the scale of TB screening to all members of the school to ensure their safety.
“I hope the department could arrange all students and staff from the school for a screening to ensure their safety,” Lau said.
The outbreak was only confirmed by the department on Tuesday night in response to media inquiry after the school posed up a circulation on its website two months ago. But the department refused to disclose the name of the school in its original statement.
“Some people may still have negative labelling of TB patients,” Leung said. “The department has to strike a balance between the public’s right to information and the privacy of the patients [in handling TB patients].”
Health authorities said they suspected that the pupil caught the disease during the summer holiday.
The disease, also known as “white plague”, was once the biggest killer in many Asian cities including Hong Kong. It has left a lasting memory among colonial-era generations when Hong Kong was cramped with immigrants and outbreaks happened often. Coughing up blood was often regarded as a sign death was soon to come.
TB killed more than 4,000 people a year in the city in the 1950s. Medicine has since been developed to cure and prevent the disease, lowering the death rate to 155 last year, with 4,412 new cases was recorded.
The local incidence rate of TB is 65 per 1 million population, compared with just 44 in Singapore and 43 in Taiwan last year, according to WHO.
There is also a growing number of drug-resistant TB cases internationally, making treatment more difficult.
Officials at Kiangsu-Chekiang College have followed the health department’s guidelines to carry out disinfection procedures and precautionary action on Wednesday. They included regular checks on the body temperatures of pupils and reminding them to observe personal hygiene, Lau added.