THUNDER BAY - The number of people in Thunder Bay infected with tuberculosis has increased from four to nine and that number is expected to rise.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit declared an outbreak of the infectious disease in March of this year when it discovered four cases in the city of Thunder Bay.
According to Dr. Emily Groot, the health unit's associate medical officer of health, staff are actively seeking out additional cases through increased screening of people at risk.
“We were expecting to find more cases,” Groot said. “We were actually looking for cases. I think we were surprised there was an outbreak overall, but to continue to find cases was not unexpected for us.”
Most tuberculosis cases identified by health unit are in individuals living in homelessness or lack adequate housing or their close friends and family. Other individuals who may have been exposed to active tuberculosis are being screened.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is spread through the air, but the likelihood of contracting it by coming into contact with someone who is infected is low.
“Someone would have to spend a long period of time with someone who is sick with tuberculosis to become infected with the bacterium,” Groot said. “Even in that case, most people that are exposed don’t catch the bug. The risk to the general public is extremely low.”
After infection, individuals can develop either latent tuberculosis or active tuberculosis, with the former not being contagious at all.
“Individuals with latent tuberculosis can develop active tuberculosis, so we may see future cases of tuberculosis related to this outbreak over the next few years,” Groot said.
Symptoms of tuberculosis include a new cough, coughing up bloody sputum, chest pain, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever and night sweats. It is treatable with antibiotics.
Tuberculosis can be detected with a tuberculin skin test and the TBDHU is continuing to work with health care providers including Public Health Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to help identify and manage cases.