A Chatteris company today issued “a statement of clarification” to explain that they are not one of the affected vegetable packing plants where TB has been confirmed.

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The company, based in Fenton Way, said they “wish to make it clear that Produce World Chatteris is not one of the plants concerned.

“The Produce World Group has robust and clear sickness reporting procedures in place to deal with any illness among its staff.”

The company employs over 1200 people in the UK and Spain and works with growers around the world.

Public Health England (PHE) confirmed at the weekend that 17 workers from two factories in the Chatteris area have been diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) since January 2012 “and are now receiving treatment and no longer infectious”.

However PHE could not confirm that a death among the workers is linked to TB.

A spokesman for PHE said the cause of the worker’s death was still under investigation “and we are aware that person had other health issues. Until we have confirmation one way or other we are unable to comment”.

The spokesman said a public health team including TB specialists have been working with the affected factories “to identify individuals who have had prolonged close contact with the infected cases, as this is the main way that TB can spread.

“Screening is the best method to identify if someone is infected and then prompt treatment with antibiotics.”

Dr Giri Shankar, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control at PHE’s Anglia and Essex Centre, said: “Although an infectious disease, TB is not easily spread unless you have had close prolonged contact with an infected individual.

“As many of the employees at the affected factories work within close proximity of each other for long periods and travel to work together, we are following up on close contacts of cases and will also be carrying out screening.

“This is a routine procedure and the best way to identify cases early and stop any further spread of the infection. There is no evidence to suggest TB transmission can occur from consumption of vegetables from the factories.”

Posters and leaflets with general TB advice have been displayed in the affected factories and TB facts sheets have been circulated with staff payslips.

A Fenland Council spokesman said they had been made aware of the TB 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 TB 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.”

Details of the outbreak were released by councillor Paul Bullen, leader of the UKIP group on Cambridgeshire County Council.

Cllr Bullen said: “I had been hearing rumours about this and today I confronted Cambridgeshire County Council’s chief executive, Mark Lloyd, who confirmed to me that there have been 20 confirmed cases of TB at the plant and that one person has died.

“It is not yet confirmed that TB is the cause of death but it may well be. I am advised that TB is endemic at the plant and that the workers involved live locally in Chatteris and Peterborough.

“I believe that officers of the council in various departments have known about this for some time and have made no effort to alert the public. This cannot be right. I am going to be raising this issue with the full council and demanding to know what steps the council is taking to isolate this TB outbreak and to protect the public.”

He said: “This brings into question the whole issue of public health screening of people come to work both in the Fens and elsewhere in the country.”

PHE said one in three people in the world is infected with TB bacteria. Only when the bacteria become active do people become ill with TB.

“Bacteria become active as a result of anything that can reduce the person’s immunity, such as HIV, advancing age, or some medical conditions,” said a PHE spokesman.

“TB develops slowly in the body, and it usually takes several months for symptoms to appear. Symptoms include: fever and night sweats, unexplained prolonged cough (more than 3 weeks) unexplained weight loss, and blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time.”

The spokesman added: “The TB germ is usually spread in the air from another person who has infectious TB of the lungs, e.g. through coughs and sneezes. Close, lengthy and frequent contact with an actively infected person is necessary to transmit the infection.”

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