It used to be one of the most dreaded of all illnesses to afflict anyone on Niue. The infectious nature of the disease was such that it warranted creating a special ward at what was then Lord Liverpool Hospital, the TB Ward.
As a young primary school student growing up at a time when the disease had a significance presence on the island, I recalled that if one member of a family was diagnosed, there was some reluctance to interact with them. It was not uncommon to find TB patients spending several months in isolation at the TB Ward.
In time, over a lengthy period of treating and studying TB cases, one of Niue’s medical practitioners Dr Dick Tafatu Hipa became a recognised regional authority. Eventually with the improvement in health care and in the standard of living, tuberculosis was brought under control and eventually eradicated from the island. . .or so we thought.
In recent days the Niue Health Department has confirmed that there are now two cases of tuberculosis, both are school pupils.
The department has to date screened approximately 500 people which include the Niue High School and Niue Primary School and those considered at risk. Of these, 61 have tested positive. Does that mean that 61 people have the disease? What does a positive test indicate?
Dr Jason Tautasi of the Niue Foou Hospital say that a positive return is an indication that a person has the TB bacteria. However this does not necessarily mean that they have active tuberculosis, not until further tests are undertaken. Most people with a positive test have latent TB infection; they do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms and they cannot pass the illness to others. Some of the 61 positive cases have already been cleared by chest x-rays but will continue to be monitored for the next two to three months.
One question that most people would like an answer to is simply this: If the island has been free of tuberculosis for decades now, why has it surfaced at this time? There has been much speculation in the community that the illness was brought in by recent arrivals. Dr Tautasi said that while that is possible, it is also possible that the bacteria may have been present on the island for a time but it is only now, following two confirmed cases of TB, with the Health Department undertaking a skin test that it can be confirmed.
Meantime if anyone is experiencing persistent coughing, pain in the chest when coughing, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, tiredness and coughing up blood stained sputum, go to Niue Foou Hospital immediately and see a doctor.