Clear and present danger: Rare disease hits Border Force officers

Brisbane-based Australian Border Force officers have been diagnosed with the infectious disease tuberculosis and the infection was only picked up on pre-deployment testing.

There are fears they contracted it while on deployment in the Torres Strait as part of Operation Overarch.

But a leaked email from Border Force officials to its officers, seen by The Courier-Mail, insisted their advice was there are no current cases of tuberculosis in the Torres Strait and the chances of contracting it there were low.

Three Brisbane-based Australian Border Force officers have tested positive to tuberculosis.
Three Brisbane-based Australian Border Force officers have tested positive to tuberculosis.

It is despite the porous border between those islands and Papua New Guinea where the bacterial lung disease, which is extremely rare in Australia, is prevalent.

In an email sent to ABF officers last week, a senior officer confirmed the positive tests were picked up during pre-deployment screening.

"Understandably, this has caused anxiety not only to the officers concerned, but also to other officers deployed on Op OVERARCH during the same rotations and to many other officers generally," the email stated.

It is understood there are three officers who have tested positive.

The email urged impacted officers to see their GP to get chest X-rays and to speak to their GP to help determine the source of the infection.

"It is extremely difficult to determine the origins of where TB may have been contracted, including the time frame when this might have occurred," the email stated.

Community Public Sector Union deputy national president Brooke Muscat said the union had written urgently to the Home Affairs department about the matter.

"Anyone in the Torres Strait and far north Queensland knows, TB has not been eradicated and the disease is real, the proximity to PNG with those drug-resistant strains mean the local community is vigilant to the risk," Ms Muscat said.

"Any ABF officer working in the region should be tested as part of their job before deployment, this helps protect the worker, their colleagues and the local community.

Aerial view of the Torres Strait Islands where there are fears ABF officers may have contracted tuberculosis
Aerial view of the Torres Strait Islands where there are fears ABF officers may have contracted tuberculosis

"The department hasn't ruled out the possibility these three officers contracted TB while deployed in TSI, it is essential the Department work with local authorities in the TSI to ensure risk to the community is minimised."

An ABF spokesman said the department did not comment on matters related to individual employees.

"All staff who are operationally deployed receive routine health screening and have access to physical and mental health supports," he said.

"Should these screenings determine any adverse medical conditions, officers are encouraged to follow medical advice provided to them."

Symptoms of tuberculosis include a cough, coughing up blood, sweats, fever and weight loss, though most people remain asymptomatic.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Clear and present danger: Rare disease hits Border Force officers



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