6 'probable' cases of TB in Nain as screening continues after teen's death

Health officials say more nurses have been sent to Nain to track potential cases of tuberculosis after a 14-year-old boy died of the disease in March.

More nurses sent to Nain to screen patients after 14-year-old Gussie Bennett died in March

Dr. Gabe Woollam, Labrador-Grenfell Health's vice-president of medical services, says provincial and federal governments are working with Nunatsiavut to bring more resources to Nain. (CBC)

Health officials say more nurses have been sent to Nain to track potential cases of tuberculosis after a 14-year-old boy's death was linked to the disease in March and a half-dozen potential cases have since been identified.

Dr. Gabe Woollam, Labrador-Grenfell Health's vice-president of medical services, says extra staff are on the ground in Nain to follow up with people who may have had contact with TB patients.

Tuberculosis typically settles in the lungs, and is treated with antibiotics. (CBC)

"The clinic in Nain is available for assessing anybody who has concerns about TB," Woollam said, acknowledging criticism from the community about availability of resources.

"Access to the clinic wasn't perfect but we've done a lot of work to mobilize resources there," he said.

"Cluster" of suspected cases

In an email to CBC News, a health department spokesperson said the department is aware of six "probable" cases of TB, "all of which are currently undergoing testing and further investigation."

In the case of Gussie Bennett, the teenager who died after being rushed to hospital, the spokesperson could not say if tuberculosis had been confirmed.

Instead, she referred CBC back to a press release issued March 22 that said there was a "strong indication" Bennett succumbed to the disease.

The health department maintains there is a 'strong indication' that Gussie Bennett, 14, died of tuberculosis. (Submitted by Katie Suarak)

Woollam described the situation as a "cluster" of suspected cases, which is less serious than an outbreak. The last outbreak was in 2014-2015

Widespread screening

When tuberculosis is suspected, health-care workers create a web of contacts to be tested, which includes family members or roommates, and anyone else the patient had regular contact with.

This morning, we talk to health officials about tuberculosis testing in Nain (00:43). Then, as spring approaches, all eyes are on the Churchill River after last year's flooding (11:38). More than 1,000 workers are still on strike from IOC in Western Labrador, and we'll talk about how that's affecting the broader business community (18:37). Finally, Labrador City's Northern Lights Theatre Company takes the stage at the provincial drama festival (28:31). 36:31

"TB is quite difficult to catch. You have to spend many hours or days in close proximity to a person who has active TB," Woollam said.

Medical officer of health Delphine Grynszpan told CBC last week 200 people had already been tested, including school children.

Delphine Grynszpan says 200 people have already been screened for tuberculosis in Nain, including school children. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Labrador-Grenfell Health is working with the federal government and Nunatsiavut, the regional Inuit government, to screen anyone in Nain who is worried about tuberculosis.

"Anyone that's concerned or maybe showing symptoms," said Nunatsiavut director of health, Sylvia Doody, "please contact your public health office and we will ensure you are screened."

About 1,100 people live in Nain, on Labrador's northern coast. (Google Maps)

Nurses at the clinic in Nain can conduct initial screening for tuberculosis using a simple skin test. When patients get a positive result, they are sent to Happy Valley-Goose Bay for further treatment and testing.

Wollam said the health authority is looking at bringing "more advanced diagnostic testing" to Nain but the details have yet to be determined.

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.