Source of latent tuberculosis in Arviat still unknown, health minister says

Nunavut’s Health minister says the source of latent Tuberculosis cases found at an Arviat daycare in July is still unknown.

Pandemic hampers Nunavut government response to tuberculosis, MLAs hear

A regional response plan to tuberculosis in the Kivalliq was slowed down by the pandemic, said George Hickes, Nunavut's minister of health. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Nunavut's department of health is sending a regional communicable disease coordinator and another tuberculosis nurse experienced in contact tracing to Arviat this week to help identify the source of latent tuberculosis cases found at a daycare last July.

"They're anticipated to be there for a couple of weeks at least," said George Hickes, Nunavut's minister of health.

While all children and staff who attended the daycare in the last year were tested, Hickes said the source of the cases is still unknown.

In the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Arviat North Whale Cove MLA John Main asked what has been done since the summer to investigate the cases and how COVID-19 had impacted efforts.

"I recognize that the member has concerns that TB has fallen off the table, so to speak, because of COVID-19, but I can assure the member that especially in Arviat we have continued to work on contact tracing," Hickes said. 

He said tuberculosis nurses have been working in Arviat for the majority of this year and that health work was still happening, but added the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed the government's efforts to be proactive through staff training, community education and planning for future prevention. 

The government hoped to have a regional action plan for tuberculosis in the Kivalliq by now, he said. 

Latent tubercolosis

Latent tuberculosis, or sleeping TB, means someone is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria but doesn't feel ill or show symptoms. It's not contagious, but can develop into active tuberculosis where a person would get sick.  

Latent cases happen when a person is in contact with someone who has active tuberculosis, the Nunavut government said in a July news release. 

Symptoms of active TB include:

  • A cough that lasts longer than three weeks. 

  • Feeling very tired.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Experiencing a fever or night sweats. 

Hickes said that on the advice of public health, community-wide screenings can't happen because of COVID-19, but added there's nothing stopping residents from getting a test at their community health centre.  

The government of Nunavut spends $10 million each year to fight tuberculosis. Two years ago, the federal government promised to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit communities by 2030, but little progress has been made since.