Thunder Bay health unit confirms 9th tuberculosis case, says outbreak is being managed

A tuberculosis outbreak in Thunder Bay has been contained and doesn't pose a threat to the general public, however it's an indicator of social issues that are putting certain segments of the population at risk, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit says.

No threat to general public, but outbreak highlights social issues, such as inadequate housing

Dr. Emily Groot, associate medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, says a tuberculosis outbreak in the city is being contained. (Thunder Bay District Health Unit)

A tuberculosis outbreak in Thunder Bay is being contained and doesn't pose a threat to the general public, however it's an indicator of social issues that are putting certain segments of the population at risk, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit's associate medical officer of health said Tuesday.

So far, nine cases of tuberculosis have been found in Thunder Bay, said Dr. Emily Groot. The city typically sees fewer than five cases per year.

"We've been actively looking for cases," Groot told CBC News. "It's a minor outbreak in the sense that we've seen nine cases to date, and we've contained the outbreak by identifying individuals who might have been in contact with cases, and assessing them."

However, the outbreak is a significant one for another reason, Groot said. Tuberculosis isn't common in Canada, so what's happening in Thunder Bay speaks to social factors that are putting people at risk, she said.

Not very contagious

In a media release, the health unit said most of the cases of tuberculosis seen so far have occurred in individuals who lack adequate housing. Groot said that could mean a residence with inadequate ventilation or one that's crowded.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and is treated with antibiotics, the health unit said.

It can be spread when a person with the disease talks, smokes, coughs, sings or sneezes. However, Groot said, tuberculosis isn't very contagious, and most people who come in contact with a person with the disease do not get infected.

However, those that do still may not get sick. Tuberculosis can be active or latent, with cases of latent tuberculosis showing no symptoms.

People who have latent tuberculosis, however, can still get sick in the future. Groot said it's possible for the bacteria to activate at some point. Usually, she said, that occurs within two years of the bacteria entering the body, but it can happen at any time.

About five to 10 per cent of people with latent tuberculosis develop active tuberculosis at some point in their lives, the health unit said.

Public health officials said in a media release that they're continuing to investigate the outbreak, and working with community partners to quickly identify and manage cases.