Health: TB in Canada What You Should Know and What You Can Do

by Shafina Reynolds

Albert immigrated to Toronto two months ago with his wife and two children. He is
33 years old and works at a factory six days a week. He is the only working member in the family. He developed a cough six weeks ago but could not afford to take unpaid sick time from work to see a doctor. He was feeling tired all the time, developed a fever and lost weight. He missed a day of work because he was so ill and he finally decided to see a doctor.

The doctor tested Albert and found tuberculosis (TB) in his lungs. Albert was shocked when he was told that he had TB and did not want anyone to know, except his wife. The doctor told Albert that his medical information would not be shared with anyone other than the health care professionals who were looking after his medical follow up and treatment.

By law, doctors must report TB to the local public health unit. Toronto Public Health’s role is to make sure that all people with TB are able to get the right tests, medicine and medical care. This helps protects families, neighbourhoods and communities from the spread of TB.

As Albert was waiting for his Ontario Health Card to arrive, Toronto Public Health arranged for him to get free medical follow-up and treatment for TB through a program called TB-UP. The doctor started Albert on TB medicine and asked him to stay home because his coughing could spread TB germs to others. To protect his family at home, he wore a mask when family members were in the same room.

A public health nurse called Albert using an interpreter. As Albert could not leave his home, the interpreter and the public health nurse met with him at his home. Albert was given information in his own language about TB, TB medicine and possible side effects from the medicine. The public health nurse also asked Albert about anyone who came in close, prolonged or regular contact with him while he was sick. This is important information because these people would be offered free TB testing and treatment.

Albert received regular home visits by a public health nurse who provided more information about TB, watched for side effects from the medicine and connected him with community resources and support. As a result, Albert and his family were able to access other Toronto Public Health services and community resources.

With permission from Toronto Public Health and his doctor, Albert went back to work after being on treatment for a few weeks. He started feeling much better. Albert stayed on treatment and was eventually cured of TB.

The story of Albert is not a true story, but is based on real life situations Toronto Public Health sees in its day-to-day work in TB prevention and control.

Tuberculosis rates are low in Canada when compared to other countries around the world. Approximately 1,700 people are diagnosed with TB disease in Canada every year. In Toronto, about 370 to 400 people develop TB every year, and 90 percent of these cases are in people who have immigrated to Canada from countries where TB is widespread.

Some immigrants have TB infection in their bodies which means that they don’t feel sick and can’t spread TB to others. But when they come to Canada, they face many stressors such as separation from family, financial strain, social isolation and adjustments to food and weather. These stressors may weaken their immune system and this can lead to the development of TB.

Facts about TB

  • TB can affect anyone.
  • TB is spread from person-to-person through the air. It is not spread by touching the same objects or by sharing the same bathroom with a person who has TB.
  • Signs and symptoms of TB of the lungs may include coughing for more than three weeks, feeling tired, weakness, appetite loss, fever, night sweats, chills or weight loss. See your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms.
  • TB testing and treatment is free.
  • TB is preventable, treatable and curable.

For more information or for translated TB information, call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600. If you do not speak English, call and state the language you speak. Interpreters are available. If you live outside Toronto, call your local public health department.

CNM