173 former Manchester Metropolitan University students are being urged to get screened for tuberculosis (TB) after a former textiles student, who finished last year was diagnosed with the disease.
Initially, 64 of her close family and friends were tested, which identified three active cases of TB, and 14 cases of latent infection. Since then the university has contacted another 235 students and staff – both current and former – who may have been in contact with the student, urging them to be screened; so far, only 62 of them have accepted the invitation. This identified four former students with latent TB and a current member of staff who has been diagnosed as possibly having TB, who is being treated for it now.
TB is a bacterial infection that mostly affects the lungs; there are about 8,000 cases a year. There is also a key difference between latent infection and the active disease, as described by Hugh Lamont, communications manager at the Health Protection Agency in the North-west: “It isn’t unusual to find latent TB as 5 per cent of the population have it. These people were not ill and they are not infectious”.
There have been no known cases of TB amongst Manchester Met students over the last year. “This is not a public health scare like meningitis,” explains Lamont. “TB develops very slowly and so this request is part of the ongoing screening that has taken place since the case last summer.”
TB is a fully treatable disease and patients usually cease to be infectious after just two weeks of treatment. “TB is not easy to contract,” says Lamont. “A healthy person would have to be around a person who has it and is coughing – spreading the infection through droplets – for about eight hours for them to have a big chance of catching it.”