AMK resident recounts tough battle with TB
Resident of AMK block with TB outbreak recounts struggle with disease two years ago
In 2014, 12 years after he became wheelchair-bound due to an industrial accident, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).
The 62-year-old divorcee, who wanted to be known only as Mr See Seng, said he had to be placed on medication for a year before he was given the all-clear.
But more than a year after his recovery, he was shocked yesterday to learn about a TB outbreak in his block.
After the ordeal he went through to defeat the debilitating disease, his first concern was whether he could be infected again.
"I'm worried that I might catch it again," he told The New Paper in Mandarin.
"If it happens to me again, then I'm just unlucky. But I hope it won't."
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said six individuals living in Block 203, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, had been detected with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), a tougher strain of TB that requires treatment lasting up to two years.
The first patient was diagnosed with MDR TB in February 2012, and two of his household members were also infected, one in May 2012, and the other last October.
Three other residents from different households in the block were detected with MDR TB - in April 2014, last October and last month.
The six patients are no longer contagious. But because TB can remain latent in infected persons for years, MOH is offering TB screening to residents of the block, as well as people who have lived there from July 2011. (See report, right.)
Mr See, who lives alone in a two-room unit in the block, told TNP he was unaware of the outbreak until he saw a letter that was slipped under his door yesterday morning.
Unable to read the letter, which was in English, he took it down to the void deck hoping to find someone who could read it to him.
When he got there, he found that it was a hive of activity as MOH, working with Sata CommHealth, had set up screening stations to test the residents.
The screenings, which include a blood test and chest X-rays, will be offered daily from 9am to 9pm until Sunday.
Mr See said: "I was trying to find someone to read the letter for me, but instead they asked me to go for the screening."
The former machinist said the insurance payout for his industrial accident, which happened in 2002, ended after he turned 55.
So he turned to selling packets of tissue paper from his motorised scooter near Sembawang MRT station.
Mr See said: "I only go out if I need to work or buy groceries."
He said he had no idea he had TB until he had a bad fall in April 2014.
When he sought treatment at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for his swollen right leg, tests showed that he was infected.
Though he does not know which strain of TB had infected him, Mr See described the experience as life-changing.
"I never thought I would get infected. At the time, I was angry because already, I couldn't walk and yet I still had to suffer from this illness," he said.
He was warded for four months in a hospital which he declined to name. Throughout his stay, his only visitors were his son and younger brother.
The eight months following his discharge were also difficult.
"There were a lot of pills that I had to take daily. Every time I collected three months' supply of medication, they filled up my whole bag," he said.
During his recovery, Mr See said he would still sell tissue paper, waking up early to cook for himself before leaving his flat.
He said his son would visit him every Saturday and also take him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for his check-ups.
Mr See urged other residents to take preventive measures, such as going for regular check-ups, to reduce their chances of contracting TB.
"Getting infected with TB is not the end of the world, but we also have to be careful not to get it or spread it," he said.
At the time, I was angry because already, I couldn't walk and yet I still had to suffer from this illness.
- Mr See Seng (above)
Different types of TB
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis, which mostly affects the lungs.
Symptoms include coughing that lasts at least three weeks, fever, and loss of weight and appetite.
Although it is usually not fatal and can be treated with antibiotics, their overuse has led to drug-resistant strains.
The Health Ministry has highlighted three forms of TB - latent, multidrug-resistant (MDR TB) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR TB).
The disease is usually latent but may become active later when a person's immune system weakens due to ageing.
While latent TB can be cured with antibiotics, MDR TB and XDR TB do not react to these drugs.
Treatment of MDR TB usually requires less effective drugs, which can cause serious side effects such as permanent hearing loss.
XDR TB, which is resistant to most tuberculosis drugs, kills three in four victims.
Treatment of drug-resistant TB takes up to 20 to 24 months, compared to six to nine months for non-drug resistant TB.
MP: Credit must be given to doctor
The doctor who raised the alert on the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) outbreak has been praised by Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC Koh Poh Koon for being "very astute".
Dr Cynthia Chee, of Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Tuberculosis Control Unit, had realised that her patient was diagnosed with the same MDR TB strain as five earlier patients who live in the same Ang Mo Kio block, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Dr Koh, who is also Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, said yesterday: "All of us see many patients on a daily basis, and it's quite amazing how she connected six patients over a four-year period. This was a very astute observation and credit must be given to her."
When The New Paper visited the block yesterday, there was a constant stream of residents heading to the screening stations at the block's void deck to be tested for TB. They included children, who were accompanied by their parents, and the elderly, who were assisted by personnel manning the stations.
Mrs Anna Peng, 31, who has been living in the affected block for five years, said she was particularly worried for her four children, aged between two months and 11 years.
The housewife said in Mandarin: "I made them wear masks. I'm not too sure what TB is, but I tell them to be careful of what they come into contact with."
A resident from an adjacent block, Mrs Tan Kim Yan, 49, who has children aged 13, 21 and 22, said: "I am concerned about my youngest child. She sometimes goes down to play with neighbours from other blocks."
As of 5pm yesterday, about 70 residents and former residents of Block 203 had been screened on-site for TB, said an MOH spokesman. Residents will be informed of their results within two weeks.
Ministry officials and grassroots leaders who have engaged more than half of the households by going door to door will continue to do so.
All of us see many patients on a daily basis, and it's quite amazing how she connected six patients over a four-year period.
SHARP-EYED: Dr Cynthia Chee had realised that her patient was diagnosed with the same MDR TB strain as five patients from the same Ang Mo Kio block. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN
- Dr Koh Poh Koon, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, on Dr Cynthia Chee (above) from Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Tuberculosis Control Unit