TB cases nearly double average yearly rate, Public Health reports

Region of Waterloo Public Health says it has seen a significant increase in tuberculosis cases in 2017, more than double what's usually expected.

Typical year sees 15 to 20 cases, but 2017 has had more than 30 active cases

Region of Waterloo Public Health says it has seen a higher-than-normal number of cases of tuberculosis this year. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

There have been nearly double the average number of  tuberculosis cases in Waterloo region this year, public health says.

Typically the region sees 15 to 20 cases each year although there are fluctuations. In the year 2016 there were 11, in the year 2011, there were a dozen. 

In 2017 so far, there have been more than 30 active cases, said Kristy Wright, the region's manager of infectious disease and tuberculosis control.

"Considering we're still in November, that is quite a jump for us," Wright told CBC News.

Pushing skin tests

The World Health Organization says tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide – 10.4 million people became sick with tuberculosis in 2016 and 1.7 million died from it.

Seven countries account for more than 60 per cent of the cases: India, Indonesia, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa.

While tuberculosis is not usually a problem in North America, Wright said there is a rich and diverse population from abroad who come to live in Waterloo region. Some come to live here while others are international students.

"We're always trying to push our universities and colleges and local health care providers to screen people from endemic countries because if they have latent disease, they can be treated and then they won't get sick," Wright said.

The skin test does cost $25 for one step or $50 for two steps. People who would be encouraged to take the two step test include health care workers, residents and staff of long term care facilities or people who have come from countries with a high prevalence of tuberculosis.

The region's tuberculosis report from 2010-2014 shows year-over-year increases in the number of people coming to the testing clinic.

Number of visits to the Waterloo Region TB skin testing clinic by year, 2010-2014. (Region of Waterloo Public Health)

Effects can be 'quite traumatic'

The disease is caused by bacteria and can spread through the air. It can cause coughing, sometimes with blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.

"It can make you quite sick, it can kill you," Wright said.

"The treatment for TB is very long term and oftentimes people have to be isolated to their homes for a period of time because they're infectious. So it's quite traumatic in terms of interrupting work or school."

She said screening is easy and the region offers weekly skin testing clinics in Waterloo, as well as monthly tests in Cambridge.