TB outbreak is updated by IH

The outbreak of tuberculosis in the Central Okanagan, first declared in January 2009, is ongoing with a total of 31 active cases identified over the past three years and new cases identified in the first three months of 2011.

Transmission has largely been in the City of Kelowna, affecting mostly the homeless and street-oriented population. The initial case was first identified in May 2008, and further cases through the fall of 2008 led to the initial declaration of the outbreak.

“The pattern of the outbreak thus far indicates there is a relatively low risk to the general population of Kelowna, as TB transmission requires significant close exposure, usually for a prolonged period of time to a person with active TB who displays symptoms such as coughing,” said Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer with Interior Health.

“The majority of the cases thus far have occurred among individuals who are homeless or dealing with addictions, with a handful of cases among staff and workers who provide direct ongoing services to the at-risk population.

“However, it is an airborne disease, so it would not be unexpected to potentially see some cases occur in the general population at some time. It is also important for all area residents to understand that no matter which population and individuals this disease is affecting, it is still a community issue and requires the community pulling together to solve.”

Since the outbreak was first identified, Interior Health has been working with physicians, health workers and community agencies to identify people at risk for TB and provide support to individuals at risk with screening, health monitoring, treatment and support for those with TB and follow-up of their contacts.

“This issue is as much about homelessness as it is about TB,” said Dr. Parker. “I believe we need renewed efforts to support the local agencies and shelters in order to provide better shelter housing and long-term housing solutions. The agencies providing shelter resources in Kelowna have been doing a fabulous job at working to minimize risk in the shelter facilities, and working with us to prevent cases and identify early symptom onset anyone who might have TB. But the reality is that the shelter facilities are just too crowded and must be improved to ensure airborne transmission doesn’t continue to occur.”

Tuberculosis is a treatable condition when identified early. One of the keys to TB outbreak control is identification and treatment of newly infectious cases early in their symptom onset. A second key outbreak control measure is to identify, through skin testing, those who may be recently infected, but are not yet sick with TB, and get them started on preventative medication. A third and final key is to prevent transmission occurring in close-contact settings in the most at-risk population.

Treatment of active TB is usually provided for a period of nine to 12 months.


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