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Tuberculosis Remains a Serious Public Health Concern

Mar 24, 2014

Every six hours, a new case of tuberculosis (TB) is reported in Canada. Globally, two people die of this infectious disease every week. More than a third of all cases in Canada are reported in Ontario, with the highest incidence rates among people from countries where TB is endemic. However, TB is preventable, treatable and curable. There are new drugs and new drug combinations available to treat TB.

Globally, TB rates have begun to decline and mortality rates have decreased significantly since 1990, a trend that is also seen in Ontario.  As physicians are seeing fewer TB cases, there may be a challenge among health-care professionals to quickly diagnose TB. The symptoms of a bad cough lasting longer than three weeks, weakness or tiredness, weight loss, chills, fever and night sweats can resemble other illnesses and can result in a delay of a diagnosis of TB.

World TB Day 2014 occurs each March 24, and serves as a reminder that TB continues to be a public health concern in Ontario. Cases of drug-resistant TB are emerging and they are a serious public health concern because they are complex to manage and expensive to treat. A single case of MDR-TB – a strain that does not respond to at least two of the standard drug treatments – could cost the health system about $500,000. A case of XDR-TB – a strain resistant to virtually all known drug treatments – can cost as much as $1 million.

The World Health Organization (WHO) StopTB strategy calls upon all countries and partner organizations to enable and promote research to stimulate production and dissemination of knowledge for TB prevention and control. The WHO has identified a number of research priorities, including production of a safe and effective vaccine, new treatments for different types of drug-resistant TB and development of a simple diagnostic test that can be used in a basic health-care setting by someone with little technical knowledge.

What is TB? TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that spread through the air. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means they are infected but are not ill and cannot transmit the disease. People with latent TB have a 10 per cent risk over their lifetime of getting active TB. People who have compromised immune systems or diabetes have a much higher risk of becoming ill. Most TB cases are treatable and curable with a standard six- to 12-month supervised treatment course. Drug-resistant TB has emerged in recent years because of the inappropriate or incorrect use of anti-TB drugs, and use of poor quality medicines.

Global Status – Although the global TB death rate dropped 41 per cent between 1990 and 2011, 8.7 million people became ill and 1.4 million died from TB in 2011, making it the second biggest infectious killer of adults worldwide. More than 95 per cent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where it is among the top three killers of women aged 15 to 44.

World TB Day – World TB Day falls on March 24th each year, commemorating the day in 1882 when the German scientist Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacillus that causes TB. At the time, TB was raging through Europe and the Americas, killing one out of every seven people. The discovery of TB bacteria led to the development of treatments for the disease.

The Lung Association and TB – The Lung Association was founded in 1900 to fight TB. Its original name was The Canadian Association for the Prevention of Consumption and other Forms of Tuberculosis. Today, the Canadian Lung Association acts as the secretariat for StopTB Canada, part of a global partnership dedicated to stopping the spread of TB around the world.

The Ontario Lung Association contributes to the exchange of knowledge on TB research and clinical management by organizing a biannual TB Conference for health-care professionals in Toronto. This year’s conference, TB:Rising to the Challenges will be held on November 17 – 19 at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto.It also publishes TB resources for health professionals including TB: Information for Health Care Providers and Assessment and Treatment of Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI): Quick Reference. Additional TB resources for health professionals and the public can be found on the websites of the Canadian Lung Association ( and Ontario Lung Association (

Efforts to prevent and control TB overlap with other Lung Association initiatives such as its long-standing smoking prevention and cessation program. More than 20 per cent of TB cases worldwide are linked to smoking. PHAC says that a smoker with latent TB has two to three times the risk of developing active TB as a non-smoker. Smoking also increases the risk of death among TB patients by up to six times.

About the Ontario Lung Association
The Ontario Lung Association is a registered charity that assists, educates and empowers individuals living with or caring for others with lung disease. The Lung Association provides programs and services to patients and health-care providers, invests in lung research and campaigns for improved policies on lung health.




For more information:
John Chenery
416-864-9911 ext. 292 | Cell: 647-293-9911