THUNDER BAY – On the eve of World TB Day, March 24, 2018, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit continues to manage an outbreak of tuberculosis in Thunder Bay. Currently, TBDHU has identified eight cases of respiratory tuberculosis and is contacting people who may have been exposed. Most cases identified to date have occurred in individuals who lack adequate housing. TBDHU is holding clinics at Shelter House for anyone who is currently homeless or under-housed.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is treated with antibiotics. Infection with M. tuberculosis ranges from asymptomatic, latent tuberculosis infection to symptomatic, active tuberculosis disease. Latent tuberculosis is not contagious, while active tuberculosis is contagious. Active tuberculosis usually affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. Symptoms of active tuberculosis include a new cough, coughing up bloody sputum, chest pain, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, and night sweats.
Acquiring tuberculosis usually requires prolonged contact with someone who is sick, like living in the same house, so the risk to the general public is extremely low. Tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person with the disease talks, smokes, coughs, sings or sneezes. Anyone can get tuberculosis, but crowded living conditions, inadequate nutrition, and reduced immune system function increase the risk of acquiring tuberculosis.
“In TBDHU, we usually see 1 to 5 cases of active tuberculosis a year,” says Dr. Emily Groot, Associate Medical Officer of Health. “A cluster of eight cases is unusual, and we are working closely with our social service and healthcare partners to identify additional cases.”
TBDHU is receiving support from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Field Epidemiology Program, Public Health Ontario, and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care in investigating and managing this outbreak.