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University reassures students and staff on reports of tuberculosis (TB)

The University of Sussex wants to reassure students and staff that there is no cause for alarm following local media reports today (Wednesday 4 April) about a small number of cases of tuberculosis (TB) that may be linked to the University.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is in contact with the University and will advise if any action is required. The University has been co-operating fully and working with the HPA and NHS locally.

Those closest to the affected individuals have been offered screening. The Health Protection Agency’s Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Unit (HPU) are working with the University and local NHS, and may recommend further targeted screening as a precaution.

Claire Powrie, Director of Student Services, is the HPA’s contact within the University. She said: “On the basis of the advice we have from the medical professionals, I can reassure all students and staff at Sussex that there is no cause for alarm.

“Nor is there any need for individual students and staff to seek medical advice. The HPA tell us that they are now undertaking detailed work to ascertain if further screening is needed and taking time to identify anybody who needs to be screened. They have told us that there is no need for mass screenings of students and staff. If any screening is required it will be closely targeted.”

Dr Angela Iversen, Director at the Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Unit, said: “Investigations of a potential link are at an early stage.

“The key to reducing levels of TB is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. If left untreated TB can be serious, but it is a preventable and treatable condition.”

What is TB and how can you catch it?

  • Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. Infection does not necessarily develop into TB.
  • TB is usually transmitted when a person with a lung infection has close and sustained contact with others (e.g. household members) as, when they cough, the infection can be spread.
  • TB develops slowly in the body and it usually takes several months for symptoms to appear.
  • TB is completely treatable. It is treated with a combination of antibiotics and treatment usually lasts six months.
  • Infectious TB cases stop being infectious after two weeks of effective treatment.
  • People who may have been in contact with an infectious case of TB can be tested using a skin test. A positive result could indicate presence of the infection but does not mean the person has active disease. Antibiotics will reduce the risk of developing into active disease later in life. A positive result will require further investigations, often including blood tests and a chest X-ray.
  • Newer blood tests are also available that can be used as well as the skin test. Again, screening will show only whether the person screened has been exposed to the infection; it does not indicate active disease or mean the person is infectious.
  • Tests are unreliable if performed too early. As the infection develops very slowly, testing is usually performed about six weeks from the date of exposure to avoid ‘false negative’ results.
  • Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB: fever and night sweats; a persistent cough; weight loss; blood in saliva.

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Posted on behalf of: Student Services
Last updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2012