TB update: ‘If you wanted to get into any other country you would have to have health checks’ says Chatteris councillor.“
PUBLISHED: 14:04 27 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:04 27 March 2014
A councillor is angry that it took two years for tuberculosis cases at two factories in her town to become public.
Chatteris Town and Fenland District Councillor Florence Newell spoke out after Public Health England (PHE) confirmed 17 workers from two factories in Chatteris have been diagnosed with the deadly illness since January 2012 “and are now receiving treatment and are no longer infectious”.
Two cases of tuberculosis (TB) were discovered at EMRS UK, which packs and stores fruits, vegetables and flowers for UK supermarkets, wholesalers and caterers, while he identity of the other factory affected has yet to be revealed.
EMRS UK managing director Ian Smith said: “When we became aware we followed all health care guide lines and spent time educating ourselves on the subject.
“The fact that the two individuals happened to work here does not suggest in any way, shape or form that the illness originated from here.
“We as an organisation have been absolutely and totally correct in our actions and have followed our internal procedures to the letter.
“If someone has a cold or cough they are not allowed on site and we ask for a doctor’s note. That procedure is followed to the letter.”
The firm is working with the PHE to ensure another outbreak does not happen.
Mr Smith said: “The infection takes time to show itself and as such monitoring will be ongoing with any actions agreed as or if felt needed.”
Another firm, Produce World Group, issued a statement saying its Chatteris packing plant was not affected.
Bartlett and Sons and Night Layer Leek have also said there have been no tuberculosis cases discovered at their factories.
Cllr Newell said the people of Chatteris had been “kept in the dark” and “should have known” about the outbreak.
She said: “This has been going on since 2012 in Chatteris and neither the town council nor district council were informed. We should have known.
“Health chiefs must have known so there has been a cover up. For it to be kept under wraps for that length of time is not acceptable and some heads must roll for it.
“The experts say not to worry because you can only catch tuberculosis on you are in close contact with someone but if you are working next to someone in a factory with the disease who is coughing and breathing next to you you are in close contact with them.”
Cllr Newell says health checks should be in place to stop migrant workers bringing the disease in to the country.
She said: “Tuberculosis was conquered in this country. This is a different strain that has been brought in from abroad.
“If you wanted to get in to Australia you would have to have health checks, the same with any other country.
“But in this country we allow people to come in without any health checks.”
A Fenland Council spokesman said they had been made aware of the tuberculosis outbreak by Cambridgeshire’s director of public health Dr Liz Robin.
The spokesman said: “We know very little at the moment but it has been confirmed to use there are cases of tuberculosis in Chatteris.
“The director of public health is leading on it and we have told her we will provide support anyway we can. We are awaiting guidance.”
Cambridgeshire County Councillor Sandra Rylance, member for Chatteris, said: “When I was told about the outbreak I thought it was recent. I didn’t realise it had been going on for a couple of years.
“I presume we were not told earlier in order to not spread panic but we should have been informed sooner.
“I definitely believe there should be more screening done of workers coming in from abroad. I don’t know if this screening should be specific for tuberculosis.
“I also think children who come from abroad, before starting school, should have certification to say they have had the same inoculations as our children.”
In the United Kingdom, there are nearly 9,000 cases of tuberculosis reported every year, with the number gradually increasing over the last few years.
Common symptoms of tuberculosis are a chronic cough, weight loss and fevers.
Dr Estee Torok, a consultant in infectious diseases at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said the rise in tuberculosis cases was likely caused by people bringing in the disease from abroad but that screening was not cost-effective.
She said: “The reason for the increase is that most of the people who develop tuberculosis have been born abroad and we have more people who have been born abroad who are living in the United Kingdom than we used to.
“A lot of these people may have acquired tuberculosis in childhood when they lived at home, and then they’re obviously presenting in adulthood when they’re living and working in the United Kingdom.
“We used to screen for tuberculosis at ports of entry but, because people actually arriving with tuberculosis is incredibly rare, it’s been decided that it isn’t really cost-effective to screen people, because most people won’t obviously have symptoms and signs of tuberculosis when they arrive.
“If you screen somebody when they arrive, that doesn’t mean that you won’t pick them up when they present later with the disease.
“So what we tend to do is see if people develop symptoms and then look for tuberculosis, rather than screening lots and lots of people who are unlikely to have the infection.”
The risk of catching tuberculosis is low and the disease can be treated through antibiotics, Dr Torok said.
She said: “Unless you’re living with somebody who has open pulmonary tuberculosis, or are in very close personal contact for a prolonged period of time, the risk of acquiring tuberculosis is very low.
“For the average person living in Chatteris or working in Chatteris the risk is not high at all. Obviously if you live with someone who has tuberculosis, then your risk increases.”