Tuberculosis

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What is it

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most frequently affects the lungs, but it may also affect the brain, spine, kidney, lymph nodes or bones.1

Who is at risk

Any incidents of TB in Canada are tracked by the government.1 TB is a rare condition in this country, with a low risk of exposure.2 However, there is a higher risk in the following situations:2

  • Contact with a person with tuberculosis
  • Past diagnosis of TB with incomplete treatment
  • Use of illegal inhaled or injected drugs, which weaken the immune system
  • Living or working in areas with a high rate of TB
  • Visiting or being born in a country with a high rate of TB
  • Conditions such as HIV, AIDS, silicosis, kidney disease requiring dialysis, diabetes
  • Drug treatments that affect the immune system

In rare situations, a person may be exposed to bovine TB through unpasteurized dairy products or inhaling bacteria breathed out by infected animals. This can happen when travelling outside of Canada to countries without pasteurization and testing programs.2

What are the symptoms

Approximately 10% of those exposed to TB will develop active tuberculosis. In severe cases, the disease may lead to death if untreated. The symptoms of active TB include:3

  • a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks
  • coughing up blood or phlegm
  • chest pain
  • weakness or tiredness
  • weight loss or lack of appetite
  • chills, fever and night sweats

The other 90% of those infected with TB do not develop the disease. This is called latent tuberculosis. These people do not feel sick, have symptoms or spread TB to others.3

How is it spread

TB is spread when a person comes in contact with expelled droplets from the lungs or airways of an infected person. This can happen through coughing, sneezing, singing, playing a wind instrument or, to a lesser extent, talking. A person must breathe in the TB bacteria to be infected.4

How is it prevented

The risk of being exposed to TB in Canada is very low. However, any person who thinks they may have been exposed should see their health care provider. Travellers to countries with high rates of TB are also recommended to visit a health care provider or travel health clinic six weeks before leaving. Anyone whose workplace may involve exposure to TB will have an infection prevention and control program in place.5

How is it treated

Tuberculosis is treatable and can be cured with antibiotics.6

For further information regarding tuberculosis and testing, please speak with your healthcare provider.

REFERENCES

  1. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). For Health Professionals. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/health-professionals-tuberculosis-tb.html
  2. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). Risks of Tuberculosis. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/risks-tuberculosis-tb.html
  3. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). Symptoms of Tuberculosis. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/symptoms-tuberculosis-tb.html
  4. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). Causes of Tuberculosis. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/causes-tuberculosis-tb.html
  5. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). Prevention of Tuberculosis. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/prevention-tuberculosis-tb.html
  6. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Diseases. Tuberculosis (TB). Treatment of Tuberculosis. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis-tb/treatment-tuberculosis-tb.html