Student with TB in hospital

A University of Moncton student with tuberculosis is in the Dr.-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton. (CBC)

The Vitalité Health Network has been busy fielding calls from people in the Moncton area who are worried they may have been exposed to tuberculosis.

Earlier this week, health officials said they wanted to contact people who had visited certain areas of the Dr.-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre prior to a university student being positively diagnosed with a potentially highly contagious type of TB.

The response has been higher than expected, said Vitalité spokesman Luc Foulem.

"People who didn't quite understand where the patient was, they just thought, 'I was at the hospital, I'm calling,' not necessarily understanding exactly where they were in the hospital and not picking up on the fact that OK, this is really specific to 3C and to the emergency department at specified dates," he said.

Officials have been able to ease the fears of some people by explaining the risk of contact, said Foulem.

"The area where the contagion can potentially happen is if you are in an environment where there's no air circulation whatsoever for at least 45 minutes to an hour. So anything below that, the possibility for someone to contract [the infection] is minimal at best," he said.

Collecting names

Foulem says names are still being collected in case any kind of testing is required.

"The earliest possible time where you can actually do an effective test is after eight weeks because it takes that long for the possibility of the virus to, for lack of a better term, to implant itself."

Dr. Gabriel Girouard, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist, has said about 100 people may have been exposed at the hospital, including medical and paramedical staff members, patients and visitors.

The patient, a business student at the University of Moncton, was admitted to hospital on Sept. 10.

Isolation measures were put in place once the diagnosis of laryngeal tuberculosis was confirmed on Sept. 17, Girouard said.

The public was notified on Sept. 23.

The patient is responding to treatment and improving, Foulem said.

Meanwhile, University of Moncton officials are also trying to reassure students and staff that their risk of developing TB is also low because exposure was limited.

The infected student attended only four classes for one week before being hospitalized, they have said.

A list of students, professors and other staff at the university who may have been in contact with the patient is being compiled.

It is not yet clear how the patient contracted the disease.

TB is caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis and is spread from person to person through the air. When someone with active TB coughs, sneezes, or sometimes even talks, tiny droplets containing TB germs are released into the air, where they can remain for hours.

The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, kidneys, lymph nodes and spine.

Symptoms of TB infection may include loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, fever or night sweats. However, many people can carry the bacteria for a long time and not have any symptoms.