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Fears of tuberculosis outbreak among Canterbury's homeless as NHS officials visit Catching Lives charity to screen rough sleepers

By Gerry Warren

Dozens of homeless people have been screened for tuberculosis in a bid to prevent an outbreak of the deadly infection.

It follows the discovery of four cases of the potentially fatal and contagious disease among Canterbury's rough sleepers.

Health officials are anxious to prevent the infection from spreading through the homeless community, which is particularly at risk because of the cramped and damp living conditions people endure.

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They have visited homelessness charity Catching Lives, in Station Road East, with an X-ray machine and blood testing equipment and tested 71 people.

The initiative, one of the first of its kind in Kent, provided on-the-spot 90-second chest X-rays from a mobile van plus blood testing, education and advice.

"People who are homeless, use drugs or alcohol or who have been in prison are at a greater risk of catching TB as they live in cramped, close conditions, which makes them susceptible to infections..." - TB nurse Marianne Stoneman

The campaign, funded by the NHS Canterbury and Coastal CCG, involved nurses from Kent Community Health NHS Trust (KCHT) working with local homelessness charities.

Health experts say TB is on the increase among the homeless, where it is easily transmitted through coughing.

The trust's TB nurse team leader Marianne Stoneman said: "In London, the incidence of TB is about 41 in 100,000 people.

"While it is much lower in Kent, we've had four positive results among homeless people and those using drugs and alcohol in Canterbury.

"After discussion with Public Health England it was decided that this kind of screening was the best way of stopping the potential spread.

"TB is on the increase, and people who are homeless, use drugs or alcohol or who have been in prison are at a greater risk of catching TB as they live in cramped, close conditions, which makes them susceptible to infections.

"Having the X-ray on site, with a radiographer, means we can give people their results then and there. We also had a consultant at Kent and Canterbury Hospital standing by for the day so we could send anyone with an abnormal results straight to them."

Terry Gore manages the Catching Lives Day Centre

Among those who helped co-ordinate the screening was Catching Lives centre manager Terry Gore, who said one of the charity's former clients was diagnosed with TB earlier this year.

He said: "We're waiting for the blood tests at the moment, but as far as I'm aware nothing serious was flagged up. One man did find out he had a broken collar bone and didn't realise it, though."

Mr Gore said the charity is working hard to improve the health of Canterbury's homeless and hopes to have a medical service up and running at the centre soon.

He said: "Rough sleepers and people who spend time homeless generally have poorer health.

"A recent piece of research by Homeless Link said a homeless person is 10 times more likely to have visited A&E in the last 12 months than any other member of the public.

"The earlier we can detect these things, the less it's going to cost society in the long run. If we intervene early there are better outcomes for our clients."

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