'TB is still here:' Sask. health workers to talk prevention, treatment at conference

As the Tuberculosis Symposium gets underway later this week, the rate of TB remains significantly higher in Saskatchewan than the rest of the country.

Rate of tuberculosis in province still one of country's highest

Dr. Kris Stewart is the clinical lead for TB Prevention and Control Saskatchewan. (CBC)

As the Tuberculosis Symposium gets underway later this week, the rate of TB remains significantly higher in Saskatchewan than the rest of the country.

The province ranks about third in the country in incidence rate, behind Nunavut and Manitoba.

The symposium is held every two years and is being hosted this year by the University of Saskatchewan's College of Nursing.

Dr. Kris Stewart, clinical lead for TB Prevention and Control Saskatchewan, said there is still a misconception among the general public that tuberculosis is a disease of the past, when globally about one out of three people has been exposed to the infection.

"TB is still here," he told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"It's not going to be going away likely in our lifetime completely, but it is very manageable."

Housing an issue

In Saskatchewan, about two-thirds of cases are among Indigenous people.

TB is transmitted by breathing air where a person with an active case has been coughing, and Stewart said infection rates in Indigenous communities are mostly driven by poorly ventilated housing and overcrowded living conditions.

He said the biggest challenge to fighting TB in the province is addressing the housing issue and the barriers to seeking and accessing early treatment.

"Traditionally, the TB team has provided satellite clinics where we go into the community every couple of months and we're there for several hours," he said.

"We need to do a better job of increasing the opportunities for people in that community to be seen, and that involves increasing the expertise and the participation of local practitioners."

Fatal in 50% of cases

Symptoms of TB include a cough that doesn't resolve after two to three weeks, unexplained weight loss and night sweats. Without treatment, TB is fatal in about 50 per cent of cases.

Stewart said young children are most vulnerable to the infection, as well as people with compromised immune systems, like people with HIV or those taking immunosuppressant drugs.

Most of Canada's cases of TB are among foreign-born residents and Indigenous peoples.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning