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No new tuberculosis cases

Alix McNaught
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, Wednesday, April 02, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - March 24 was World TB Day, and this year's theme, "I am stopping TB," is evident in Yellowknife.

One year after the initial outbreak, and there are still only 12 recorded cases of tuberculosis in the city, according to Dr. André Corriveau, chief medical officer with the Department of Health and Social Services.

Timeline

March 2007 - Initial outbreak. Tuberculosis diagnosed in a homeless man at the Salvation Army shelter

October 2007 - Nine cases of TB reported in Yellowknife, all related to the original case

November 2007 - A total of 12 cases reported in Yellowknife; none have been reported since.

April 2008 - TB Team continues to treat and test those with TB and those potentially exposed to it.

"There's still a lot of work going on treating people but there's been no new cases. It looks like we're nearing the end," said Corriveau on Tuesday.

Last year, an outbreak grew from a single person residing at the Salvation Army homeless shelter and steadily climbed throughout the year. Hundreds of people were tested, among them police officers, ambulance drivers and other health care workers.

With the rate of tuberculosis four times higher in the Northwest Territories than in the rest of the country, the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority is working to educate people and combat against TB.

Tuberculosis is a disease that is caused by a bacteria that generally affects the lungs; however, it can also affect other parts of the body.

"It's spread by coughing. It's coughed out of one person's lungs and breathed in by someone else," said Heather Leslie, a registered nurse on the TB Team at the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, March 31.

The TB Team is still retesting people from the outbreak that began in March 2007, as the TB germ can linger.

"It's slippery that way. The infection gets its way into the lung and walls itself off. We're certainly still on it," said Leslie.

The people potentially exposed last year will be tested for signs of tuberculosis for two years.

"By two years, it would be considered they wouldn't develop TB from that exposure," she said.

"People tend to stigmatize people with TB. People feel they're shunned and discriminated against," she said.

Leslie wanted to stress that tuberculosis is completely curable and that people are only infectious during the first two weeks of treatment. As soon as it's diagnosed, through a chest X-ray or a sputum specimen, TB can be treated through pills. On average, the pills take nine months to cure the disease.

"I think a good structure has been put in place to do follow-up with patients," said Corriveau.

According to Leslie, a person can have the disease of tuberculosis or the tuberculosis infection, which means that they have breathed in the TB germ, but it is dormant.

"There are a lot of people in the Northwest Territories with the latent infection," said Leslie, adding that having the infection increases a person's chance of becoming ill in the future by 10 per cent.

According to Leslie, the risk of TB is low for the average Canadian. The high rate of TB in the Northwest Territories is linked to the greater aboriginal population in the Northwest Territories, as aboriginals are among those at the greatest risk to contract tuberculosis.

Of the 1,600 cases of TB diagnosed yearly in Canada, 68 per cent of those occur in foreign-born Canadians and 17 per cent in the aboriginal population. Overcrowding, smoke in the home and poor nutrition also increase a person's risk of contracting TB.

According to Leslie, there are currently "several" cases of tuberculosis in Yellowknife, however, the numbers fluctuate constantly as people are cured or leave the city. The most recent case was diagnosed in November.

"The key is we are continuing to monitor the people we consider to be most at risk. We are on the offensive. We want to find the next case before it finds us," said Leslie.

To provide public education, the TB Team has done presentations at both the Salvation Army and the women's shelter, as well as the North Slave Correctional Facility.