YK health officials mark World TB Day as NWT rates diminish

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Healthcare workers in Yellowknife marked World Tuberculosis (TB) Day Tuesday with a public information session outside the post office.

The day is marked annually on March 24 to bring awareness to the disease, which remains a serious public health issue worldwide.

“Tuberculosis is a disease that’s often forgotten by most people including healthcare workers and the general population,” said Maureen Mayhew, the territory’s acting deputy chief public health officer.

TB is a widespread, and in some cases fatal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria.

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The disease typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.

Mayhew says incidence rates in Canada and the Northwest Territories are declining (pdf).

According to figures from the territory’s department of health, there were four active cases of TB in the territory in 2013.

Of all cases in the territory since 1999, 87% completed treatment successfully.

Watch: TB Germ, A Cunning World Traveller (narrated by Mayhew)

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 “It’s a bit confusing for people often times because in Canada we don’t have a lot of tuberculosis,” said Mayhew.

“We used to in the 1940s and 1950s and then we were quite good at treating it all, and so now we’re considered to be a country with low incidence rates.

“The focus now, in addition to picking up early cases when people are sick, is to focus around people who have latent TB – which is when they’ve been infected with the germ but it’s not causing any disease and they’re just kind-of carrying it in a safe way.”

In incidents of latent TB, Mayhew says a person’s immune system will form a calcium shell around the germ, preventing it from spreading.

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But people who do get sick can get fevers, night sweats, lose their appetite, lose weight, get tired easily or cough blood.

Mayhew says treatment in Canada usually involves taking medication and vitamins over nine months.

“What we know is that five to 10% of people do get sick over the rest of their life after they get infected, so what we’re trying to figure out is which people might be more at risk.

“The big group of people that we concentrate a lot of effort on are people who have recently been in contact with somebody with TB disease.

“We offer them two different screening tests. We have the skin test which is more common and there’s a blood test which is only available in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.”

Mayhew says other at-risk groups include people with illnesses like HIV, various cancers, chronic kidney failure and diabetes.

Tuberculosis is also closely linked to both overcrowding and malnutrition, making it one of the principal disease of poverty.

The GNWT says it is working in partnership with aboriginal and community governments and residents to raise awareness of the disease and prevent it from spreading in the territory.

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