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For Immediate Release:
December 5, 2002

Tuberculosis Fact Sheet

What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). TB mainly affects the lungs but can also affect any part of the body. TB can be active (experiencing symptoms) or inactive (no symptoms).

How is tuberculosis spread?
Tuberculosis is only infectious if the disease is in the lungs (pulmonary) and the person is coughing the germ into the air. TB spreads when these germs are inhaled by another person. TB found in other parts of the body cannot be spread to others.

What is the difference between active and inactive tuberculosis?
Active tuberculosis occurs when the TB germs spread and cause damage to the lungs and other parts of the body.

Inactive tuberculosis occurs when the body contains the TB germs but no damage is done. Approximately ten per cent of inactive TB cases develop active TB disease later in life.

What are the symptoms of active tuberculosis?
Symptoms in adults include cough, loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Cough and sputum are often present and may be misdiagnosed as bronchitis or pneumonia. Tuberculosis in the lungs may not produce any symptoms until the infection is visible on a chest x-ray.

Is it easy to catch tuberculosis?
No. Frequent, repeated exposure to an infectious individual is usually needed before someone becomes infected with tuberculosis. It is estimated that exposure for several hours a day for a few months is necessary for an average, healthy adult to get the infection.

Can tuberculosis be treated?
Tuberculosis can be cured using modern antibiotics. After a few weeks of treatment, most TB patients are no longer contagious and can return to school or work. Most people do not require a hospital stay. Medication to treat TB must be taken for six to nine months.

Who is at risk?
High risk groups for tuberculosis infection include:

  • all individuals who have spent time in parts of the world where TB is prevalent
  • Aboriginal people
  • people with HIV/AIDS
  • seniors
  • homeless, urban-core residents.

Other risk groups include:

  • people living in overcrowded and sub-standard living conditions
  • people working in health care institutions, social service organizations and correctional facilities who have frequent contact with high risk individuals

Is tuberculosis a problem in Canada?
Canada currently has one of lowest rates of tuberculosis in the world. Unfortunately, the situation is not the same in most of the world. One-third of the world's population is infected with TB.

Although effective treatment and prevention strategies exist, TB still kills two to three million people every year (one death every 12 to 15 seconds), more than either AIDS or malaria.

How does the Region of Peel (Peel Health) respond to tuberculosis?
Doctors and hospitals are required by law to report new cases of tuberculosis to the Medical Officer of Health. Peel Health staff then monitors the number of TB cases, and works with doctors to ensure that cases and their close contacts are tested and treated properly.

Under its Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) program, Peel Health monitors individuals on treatment for TB to ensure antibiotics are taken for the full course of treatment. DOT involves closely monitoring to ensure the infection is cured, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not emerge.

Dr. David McKeown
Medical Officer of Health
Region of Peel
905-791-7800, Ext. 2215

Communication Services, 10 Peel Centre Dr., Brampton, ON L6T 4B9 Phone: 905-791-7800, Fax: 905-791-0595 , e-mail



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