LETHBRIDGE – Alberta Health Services says it wants people to understand it’s taking all prudent steps to deal with a case of tuberculosis in the South Zone.
Medical officer of health Dr. Vivien Suttorp told reporters while 55 people have been notified in writing of their potential exposure, it does not mean all 55 will get the disease. Suttorp addressed the case during a news conference Thursday, July 5, one day after AHS first notified the public as a matter of transparency.
Few details are being released about the patient, including their location in the South Zone. AHS had initially said the patient works at a food processing plant. Suttorp said tuberculosis cannot be spread through food or inanimate objects, only through the air.
“There are very stringent guidelines around management of tuberculosis when there is an active case,” Suttorp explained, adding they work their way through people who may have had contact with the patient, to detect “sleeping” TB.
“TB is a bacteria that enters the lungs, and most of the time people don’t know they have TB infection, and in healthy people, you mount an immune response and it sort of walls it off. But it’s still in your system and it sits there and it’s dormant.”
For people found to have a dormant case of the disease, there is treatment, including medication at no charge, that can take up to six months. But in the meantime, there’s no need for those people to be quarantined. And the screening process takes six to eight weeks after the possible exposure.
“If I was exposed to TB today, I’m not infectious to anybody,” she said. “Because it goes into a lung, and then it gets walled off in a normally healthy person. That is not infectious.”
Tuberculosis is not unheard of in Alberta, and in fact, the South Zone had the highest rate in the province in 2016. But it usually is dealt with quietly.
While not very infectious, it is common in certain other countries and is described by Suttorp as the “second largest killer in the world.” It can be spread by a patient with an active case by coughing, causing droplets to spread through the air.
“Sometimes TB can also impact other organs. Lymph nodes, kidneys, spine, bones, etc. It’s most contagious when it’s in the lungs.”
She said there are stringent guidelines for people entering Canada from high-risk countries, or places like refugee camps. AHS also works with employers to screen foreign workers.
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