55 people potentially exposed to tuberculosis in southern Alberta

Alberta Health Services has notified 55 people who have potentially been exposed to a confirmed case of tuberculosis.

An infected person works at a food-processing plant, health authority says

Tuberculosis is a bacterium that primarily infects the lungs. It's treated with antibiotics. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Fifty-five people have potentially been exposed to a confirmed case of tuberculosis in the Lethbridge area, Alberta Health Services says

The infected person works at a food-processing plant, but the transmission of the infection is not related to the food processed there, the health authority announced Thursday. 

There's also no evidence to suggest anyone could contract tuberculosis, or TB, by eating food from the plant, said Dr. Vivian Suttorp, lead medical officer for Alberta Health Services' south zone.

"TB is not a very infectious organism. It's very different than measles, for example, that's much more contagious," Suttorp said.

No cause for concern, doctor says

Alberta has a low incident rate of tuberculosis, and Suttorp said the public doesn't need to be concerned.

"I think sometimes there's a misunderstanding, there's misconceptions," she said. "And it creates a lot of fear and perceived risk." 

TB is not transmitted through inanimate objects or through food, but instead by breathing in air from an infected person. 

"In TB cases, infectious lung TB, the most at risk are those living in the household with the individual," she said.

AHS is following up with family, friends and coworkers of the exposed individual to identify if it has spread.

However, there's a bit of a time delay as it takes weeks before medical officials can determine whether someone has been exposed.

Active TB may involve symptoms of coughing up bloody mucus, being tired and losing weight or having night sweats and fever, according to Alberta Health.

AHS says the people who may have been exposed have received hand-delivered letters that include information on standard screening and treatment options, if required.

Tuberculosis is typically treated using antibiotics.

​​With files from Elizabeth Snaddon and The Canadian Press.