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TB remains a global public health problem

SIMCOE, ON, MARCH 22, 2013 – While the risk of getting tuberculosis in Ontario is generally low, it is still important for people to be screened and seek treatment when needed.

This is the reminder the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is sharing with the public as World TB Day is recognized around the globe on March 24.

Despite being curable with antibiotics, tuberculosis (TB) remains a major cause of disease and death in much of the world, particularly in developing countries. In 2010, there were more than 1.4 million deaths from TB worldwide.

The most recent data shows a Canadian rate of 4.7 cases per 100,000 people. Ontario cases account for approximately half of the cases of TB reported in Canada each year, with the highest incidence of TB found in Toronto.

“Although Canada has one of the lowest rates of tuberculosis, we do still see cases of TB in our area,” said Tamara Robb, a public health nurse with the Health Unit’s Infectious Disease Team. “Also, most people have travelled, or know someone who has travelled internationally, so we need to keep paying attention to this disease here in our communities.”

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that can affect your lungs or other parts of your body such as brain, lymph nodes or kidneys. While not as contagious as some other diseases, such as influenza or chicken pox, TB germs are spread by coughing, laughing, sneezing, singing, or talking. The Health Unit is also looking to put to rest the myth that the disease is transmitted through touching, kissing or sharing food with an infected individual.

“Tuberculosis is entirely an airborne disease, so the notion that TB can be spread through actions like shaking hands, sharing dishes or using a toilet seat that has been used by someone who has TB is purely a myth,” noted Robb.

However, Robb cautioned that the bacteria that cause TB can lie dormant or asleep in a person, which is referred to as a latent TB infection. Latent TB germs do not make you sick, cannot be passed on to other people, and can be cured with treatment. If you fail to get treatment however, it can get worse, as latent TB infection can turn into active TB disease at any time.

Active TB disease causes damage in the body and may lead to a persistent cough, weight loss, night sweats, loss of appetite, fatigue, pain in the chest and coughing up blood. About 10% of people who have a latent TB infection will develop active TB disease at some point in their lives. These are the cases the Health Unit follows most frequently.

In 2012, the Health Unit reported four positive TB skin tests, investigated eight latent TB infections and conducted medical TB surveillance on three immigrants to the area.

“The best way to prevent TB is to treat and cure people who have it,” explained Robb. “The challenging part is ensuring infected people are identified and provided treatment in a timely manner.”

Robb added that each person with active TB can infect between 10 and 15 people in one year just by regular breathing, because the germs can stay in the air for hours.

To combat the spread of TB, the Health Unit works to identify individuals with active or latent TB, isolate those with infectious TB and provide the appropriate treatment and medication for those with active TB or a latent infection.

More information on tuberculosis is available on the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media contact:
Tamara Robb
Public Health Nurse – Infectious Disease Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3251 at either 519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623
[email protected]