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Vancouver Opera shines the spotlight on tuberculosis

BCCDC nurses participate in panel on tuberculosis ahead of La Bohème opera performance.
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​BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) nurses will be participating in two upcoming Vancouver Opera shows of La Bohème but not with arias from centre stage; they will be there to raise awareness about tuberculosis.

“People think tuberculosis is a long-gone disease,” said Cheryl Giffin, nursing supervisor for the BCCDC’s two provincial tuberculosis clinics and one of the nurses participating in the event. “I want people to know that it still exists in B.C.”

Vancouver Opera has mounted a production of Puccini’s La Bohème, a love story in which a heroine dies tragically from tuberculosis among a community of bohemian artists in 1920s Paris. It invited BCCDC tuberculosis nurses to participate in panel discussions about the disease ahead of productions on Saturday and Tuesday evenings.

“The opera is an example of how the disease was portrayed in arts and literature in the nineteenth century, a treatment that lead to tuberculosis becoming known as the romantic disease,” said Colleen Maybin, director of Education and Community Engagement for the Vancouver Opera. 

“We invited the BCCDC to participate in the pre-show talks for La Bohème as part of our ongoing commitment to engage with our audiences around topics that remain relevant and important to our community. These events, along with the emotional experience of attending the opera, create powerful opportunities for learning.”

There are about 275 active cases of tuberculosis in B.C. every year. Individual with active tuberculosis becomes sick, often with a respiratory infection or cough, and can spread the disease. There are an additional 700 cases of latent or the sleeping form of tuberculosis in which an individual carries the bacteria that causes an infection but isn’t sick. 

The sleeping form of the disease can develop into active infection when a person’s immune system weakens but with treatment, it can be prevented.  In some cases people are reluctant to get tested and treated for tuberculosis because of stigma.

“Tuberculosis instills fear in people,” said Giffin, who has been a tuberculosis nurse with the BCCDC for the past six years. “I hope this discussion helps to reduce stigma. That would really benefit people with tuberculosis.

As a nurse, part of Giffin’s role in supporting patients is helping them to understand the diagnosis, the treatment and to provide support. She fills in gaps and figures out the type of care that will work for the patient.

“People diagnosed with the active, or infectious form of the disease, are asked to isolate from family, friends and remove themselves from normal social activities,” she said. “This is a huge public service because they are helping to stop the spread of the illness, and it worthy of appreciation.”

World TB Day, on March 24, is a great opportunity to spread awareness of tuberculosis amongst all British Columbians. This awareness helps to highlight that the disease is on the provincial and global health agenda as well as reduces stigma and dispel myths commonly associated with the disease and infection. To mark the day, the City of Vancouver will light up City Hall in red. 




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