THUNDER BAY — The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is reaching out to groups that work with the homeless and other marginalized people to manage an outbreak of tuberculosis in the community.
TBDHU's Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Emily Groot, says meetings are being set up this month with staff at local shelters and other agencies that support the homeless and individuals who are "precariously housed."
Since the health unit declared a TB outbreak In March, it has identified 11 cases of active tuberculosis, most of which involve people who lack adequate housing.
Groot describes it as "a large outbreak by Canadian standards" for a city the size of Thunder Bay.
In an interview with Tbnewswatch, she said TBDHU expects to confirm additional cases as it continues to screen people who may have been exposed to TB.
"We'd like community providers to know what we're doing and how we're working with some of the clients that are share between our organizations."
Groot said several "education sessions" are planned with providers.
In discussing how TB spreads, health unit staff will point out the difference between active tuberculosis, which is infectious, and latent TB, which is not infectious.
"We'll be talking about what to do if a client has symptoms that are suggestive of tuberculosis," she said.
For the population considered at risk, Groot said, "we're talking about things like a new cough, fever, chills, night sweats, unplanned weight loss" as the primary things to watch for.
She said "it's a bit unusual" to hold these kinds of meetings, but added that the risk the outbreak poses to the general public is "very low."
"TB is not a very contagious disease. Although it is spread through the air, most people need to spend substantial amounts of time with someone who's sick to get infected with that bacteria."
Taking a bus ride with someone sick with TB wouldn't pose a serious risk, Groot said, whereas living in the same house with such a person over a period of several days would be risky.
TB patients are treated with antibiotics.