TB cases at Sealord 'pose no risk'
Two confirmed cases of infectious tuberculosis and a third suspected case at Sealord's Nelson plant pose no further risk to other workers or seafood buyers, Nelson Marlborough medical officer of health Jill Sherwood said today.
All three people worked in the same area at the Port Nelson factory site. The first case surfaced in April and that person has been treated and returned to work. The second is someone with "very low infectivity" who has not passed the notifiable disease on to anyone else, Dr Sherwood said. The third has not yet been confirmed but a precautionary approach has been taken. The patients would continue to be isolated "until we know for certain they're non-infectious".
A man in his 70s who died in Nelson Hospital in November was found to have been suffering from TB but tests had shown there was no link between him and the Sealord cases.
Dr Sherwood said Nelson Marlborough District Health Board staff had worked closely with Sealord since the first case. "Because of the nature of the person's illness, we decided to do a lot of screening of people who worked there, to be on the safe side."
The two others worked "in close proximity" to the first, but she did not think they had contracted the illness from that person, because it was too soon for infectious TB to have developed. She was confident that the testing had identified all cases of latent TB at Sealord, whether new or old.
Latent TB is present in about one-third of the world's population, concentrated in developing countries. It is also carried by many New Zealanders of earlier generations who grew up when the illness was common in this country. Once identified, latent TB can be eliminated with drugs. Only 5 to 10 per cent of untreated carriers go on to develop the illness, which tends to hit the very young, or people with a weakened immune system.
Dr Sherwood said several ethnicities were involved in the Sealord TB results but the first "was not someone who had come to New Zealand from another country".
TB was "reasonably hard to get" and there was no danger to consumers of Sealord products.
"You've got to have pretty close or prolonged contact with people who have it in their lungs and are coughing it up."
Nationally there are 300-350 cases notified in New Zealand each year. Nelson-Tasman typically has three to four, and in the last six months there had been six, including three, all non-infectious, in people who had lived in countries with a high rate of TB. One of the three was a New Zealander.
"It is more than usual, but our numbers are so low it means they're quite unstable - it could be as low as one, and in other years more."
She said the figures were a reminder to be on the alert for possible infection.
"It can be someone who's sitting next to you on the plane when you take an international flight. When you go on holiday in high-risk countries you could be exposed."
A cough that lasted longer than three weeks and produced a lot of phlegm, any bloodstaining in phlegm, weight loss or night sweats should be checked out by a doctor.
"It's not that there's more around, but it is something that does happen on occasion in New Zealand."
Sealord communications manager Alison Sykora said the group had strict health and hygiene standards and had involved the health board as soon as TB was suspected.
There had been "a huge effort to make sure that this was well understood and all of our people looked after. The DHB folk worked very closely with our health and safety team and continue to do so."
It had been confirmed that there was no risk of the disease through Sealord's processing or products, she said.
Service and Food Workers Union Nelson organiser John Cumming said the union was in regular contact with Sealord workers, and they had raised no health or safety concerns in relation to TB.
TB is treated with antibiotics, sometimes over a long period. Once it has developed into the illness, untreated active TB kills more than half of those infected.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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