About 500 vegetable packing workers screened for TB

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

About 500 employees have been screened for TB, after the outbreak at ERMS
About 500 employees have been screened for TB, after the outbreak at ERMS
Up to 500 employees at a vegetable packing firm in Cambridgshire have been screened for tuberculosis (TB), after an outbreak blamed by a local councillor on migrant workers from eastern Europe.

Employees at ERMS (UK) underwent X-rays and blood tests at the firm’s head office in Fenton Way, Chatteris, in a bid to contain the outbreak. TB has been diagnosed in 17 workers who reported having worked in factories in the Chatteris area.

ERMS md Ian Smith told FoodManufacture.co.uk last Friday (April 11) the firm had acted quickly to stop the spread of the disease. “We are very comfortable with what we have done,” ​he said. “We have been very proactive in screening people over a very hectic past two days.”

Public Health England (PHE) said there was no risk from eating vegetable from the factories. Dr Kate King, consultant in communicable disease control at PHE’s Anglia and Essex Centre, said: “I would like to stress that transmission of the infection is not related to the type of business at the factories, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest TB transmission can occur from consumption of vegetables from the factories.

‘Public health response’

“The factories have been fully supportive of their staff and the public health response. The screening is taking place because staff at the factory spend long periods of time in close proximity to each other, either travelling to work or in the work place.”

PHE was unable to confirm the origins of the outbreak. But Cambridgeshire county councillor Paul Bullen blamed the TB infection on migrant workers from eastern Europe and claimed the fact was too politically sensitive for the authorities to acknowledge.

“The outbreak has categorically come from eastern Europe,”​ Bullen told BBC News. “It is east European migrant workers who have brought it in and are spreading it among themselves and possibly the local population. It’s not been made public for political reasons.”

‘European migrant workers’

A PHE spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “PHE does not give out personal information such as nationality for confidential reasons. We cannot determine exactly where cases caught the infection as many of the infected people worked, travelled to work and lived together.”

TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Contracting the condition depends upon close and prolonged contact with someone with active TB of the lungs, said PHE.

“Early detection and treatment is key to stopping the spread of the infection,”​ it added. “Although all 17 cases have been treated with antibiotics and are no longer considered to be infectious, the disease can take a long time to develop, therefore, as a precaution, their co-workers are being offered screening.”

One-in-three people in the world is infected with TB bacteria. The disease sickens people only when the bacteria become active. This can be triggered by anything that reduces a person’s immunity, such as HIV, advancing age, or some medical conditions, according to the National Health Service (NHS).

Meanwhile, last summer an outbreak of TB hospitalised four​ 2 Sisters workers at the firm’s Dial Lane site in West Bromwich.

More information on TB can be found here​.


TB symptoms

• Fever and night sweats

• Unexplained prolonged coughing, lasting more than three weeks

• Unexplained weight loss

• Blood appearing in phlegm or spit

Source: NHS

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