Thousands of people in B.C. are impacted by tuberculosis
, also known as TB, but ending TB is within reach.
TB is a serious infectious disease that usually affects the lungs and is spread through the air. There are two types of TB: active and latent.
“The good news is that TB is preventable and treatable and we have a fantastic team of nurses here to support you,” said Elisabeth Hansen, clinical nurse educator for TB Services at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
The nursing team is part of BCCDC’s TB Services
, a province-wide program that manages the care and follow up of people with active and latent TB. They also reduce the impact of disease through screening, prevention and treatment. World TB Day is March 24 and this year’s theme is “It’s time…” The nursing team is using this opportunity to tell people that it’s time to end TB by getting tested and treated and stopping stigma.
“The disease of TB can trigger stigma and it can deter people from accessing care and even screening,” said Rhonda McLean, TB Services nurse consultant with the BCCDC who advises health care providers around the province.
The disease is caused by bacteria and a person with active TB in their lungs can spread the disease by coughing germs into the air. Symptoms can include a cough that lasts longer than three weeks, fever, night sweats and weight loss.
The incidence of active TB is higher in BC than the rest of Canada. In 2017, there were 263 cases of active TB or an incidence of 5.5 per 100,000 people, compared to Canada’s rate of 5.1 per 100,000. Most of the TB in B.C. is found in the Lower Mainland and often occurs in people born outside of Canada who are not sick with TB when they arrive but the bacteria wake up years later.
This is known as latent TB, also referred to as sleeping, dormant or inactive TB. In latent TB, the bacteria are in the body but the person does not feel sick and can’t spread the TB germ to others. Unfortunately latent TB can wake up and become active TB, even decades later, when the immune system is weak. With specific antibiotics, the TB bacteria can be cleared and active TB can be prevented.
Only certain people need to be checked for TB including people who have symptoms, have a weakened immune system or those who have spent time with someone with active TB. Some jobs or schools may also ask for a TB test.
The BCCDC offers TB testing in two clinics
in the Lower Mainland, one in New Westminster and one in Vancouver. There is also an outreach team that helps support people experiencing barriers to getting care.
“These could be people who are under housed or homeless, economically challenged or with language barriers or people who have barriers accessing the health care system,” said Nash Dhalla, an outreach nurse. “Our outreach team works together to help people navigate the system and take their medications.”