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220 Irish schoolchildren in TB screening after outbreak

More than 200 children are to be screened for tuberculosis (TB) after an outbreak in a primary school, it emerged today.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed three youngsters in the Cork city school have already tested positive for the infection disease, which can be spread by coughing.

No source of the outbreak has yet been found.

The HSE South said the infected youngsters have started anti-tuberculosis treatment and are under specialist paediatric care.

Meanwhile medical staff will begin screening 220 pupils and school staff in the chest clinic of St Finbarr's Hospital in Cork from Monday.

Screening has also been offered to family members of the three children who contracted TB.

In a statement the HSE said the screening will involve a questionnaire, administration of a Mantoux skin test - a skin test on the forearm which requires reading 48 - 72 hours later - and a chest x-ray if required.

For some individuals, a blood test may also be indicated.

Health chiefs said an investigation in to the cluster of cases is progressing in line with national TB contact tracing guidelines.

An outbreak control team is coordinating the investigation and is liaising closely with school management.

TB is an infection caused by a germ which usually affects the lungs, but any part of the body may be affected. It is usually spread when an infected patient coughs and someone else breaths in the coughed up germs.

Around 85 suspected cases of TB were reported in the HSE South area last year, with 53 so far this year.

For the majority of people, primary infection with TB is minor with flu like symptoms.

But health chiefs warn some people develop active disease and called for anyone who has been in close contact with a sufferer to be screened.

TB can be cured with antibiotics, but the minimum duration of treatment is six months.